In Jacobson’s debut novel, a precocious boy from a broken family feels God’s influence on his life.
The novel opens, memorably, with a 6-year-old boy receiving the Holy Spirit at a revival meeting. From the start, it’s clear that this is no ordinary child, as he’s both unusually serious and uncommonly gifted. But his dysfunctional family could derail his mission to serve Jesus: His father is, by turns, absent or violent, and the family’s frequent moves mean that the boy is often the new kid in school. It’s not until page 20 that readers learn the boy’s name (Ches); other immediate family members remain “the dad,” “the mother,” “the eldest brother” and so on. This anonymity indicates Ches’ solipsism, and suggests that his is an archetypal hero’s quest. However, it also allows readers to remain detached from the characters. Ches’ coming-of-age doesn’t follow a smooth path; he may be a genius—reading Nietzsche at age 12—and a surfing phenom, but drugs and crime also beckon him. Italicized chapter-ending passages reveal that the entire story is a series of flashbacks, and that Ches is currently hiding in a church utility room, either having a breakdown or an epiphany. However, his self-psychoanalysis seems far-fetched for an adolescent: “He pushed the paranoia back by reminding himself of his current victim status.…This thought sectionalized the guilt.” Jacobson is clearly fascinated by how people speak, and he creates distinctive voices, some in dialect, throughout the novel. He convincingly renders a Southern preacher’s twang, a teacher’s Brooklyn accent and Ches’ grandmother’s Louisianan drawl, even if they can be challenging to read—as when the preacher says, “[S]ayith Gawd, ‘I whill powur out maa speeritupon awl falesh in the layst days’!” At one point, when Ches attends a Christian interdenominational conference, Jacobson transcribes a panel discussion on glossolalia and Trinitarianism. Again, the individual voices emerge beautifully, but the scene seems irrelevant, as do various asides discussing the Trinity, as the Oneness Pentecostal church is held up as a bastion of orthodoxy. This theme, particularly in combination with the author’s mockery of Ches’ liberal humanist and feminist professors, makes the novel feel like a Trojan horse, conveying conspiracy theories and religious dogma inside a somewhat aimless plot.
A skillfully written novel, undermined by fundamentalist propaganda.

Pub Date: July 25, 2014


Page Count: 270

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2014

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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