The book's earnestness weighs it down from time to time, but overall Wells has written a tender, affecting novel, one that...

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THE END OF LONELINESS

German-Swiss novelist Wells' fourth book—his first to be translated into English—is a bittersweet, intricately plotted family saga that centers on Jules Moreau and his elder siblings.

After their parents die in an accident when Jules is 10, he, his sister, Liz, and his brother, Marty, are sent to a boarding school, and gradually they recede from each other, drift away from the (now haunted) intimacy they shared before. Liz becomes a beautiful, enigmatic butterfly, ever elusive; the driven Marty hurls himself into his studies, seizes on a new big idea, and becomes an early internet entrepreneur. Meanwhile, the awkward, dreamy Jules wants to become a photographer (his father's thwarted passion) or a writer. Fifteen years or so later, he reconnects with his friend and chief solace from those lonely schooldays, Alva, for whom he nursed a love that wasn't so much unrequited as tantalizingly out-of-phase. She's married now, it turns out, to a much older Russian-born writer who was one of their adolescent literary idols, and Jules leaves his job as a record-company executive to live with them in a remote chalet. He and Alva resume their old chaste companionship, and her husband, whose memory has begun to fail in ways at first scarcely visible but ever more conspicuous, encourages Jules to rededicate himself to his old ambition of writing fiction. What emerges from his stay in Switzerland is a dense network of connections and collaborations, not only with Alva and her husband, but also with Liz and Marty. Some of these links are wished for, some half-accidental, some ardently chased after, some resisted or delayed or lamented or clear only after years of being obscured, but all of them are inescapable—which turns out to be a pretty fair definition of family. Wells' style is less antic than that of his admired elder John Irving, but in setting, tone, density of plot, and a streak of (occasionally heavy-handed) didacticism, the resemblances are strong.

The book's earnestness weighs it down from time to time, but overall Wells has written a tender, affecting novel, one that packs a lot into a slender frame.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313400-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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THE VANISHING HALF

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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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