SNOW

What begins as a sharp, clever debut comedy veers bewilderingly (and disappointingly) toward the surreal. Howie's 30-year-old (unnamed) heroine has been married for six months, but already it's clear the marriage isn't succeeding. She and her husband, Doug, have stopped having sex and can work through the tension between themselves only by buying antique furniture and refinishing it. By now their Brooklyn apartment is crammed full of antiques, Doug is growing ever more taciturn, and his wife is having frequent nightmares. Her father commiserates but isn't much help. Neither are her friends. Then a ruptured muscle in the woman's thigh begins to cause serious pain, and her doctor can offer no solution. Abruptly, she gets divorced and drives north to a cabin in the woods, determined to remain alone until she's figured out why she seems constitutionally unable to love. In the cabin, though, insight fails to appear. She watches the snow fall, growing increasingly depressed until she notices that her cat, Vinny, is talking to her. Vinny, an introspective, intellectual soul who was once Napoleon and claims to be evolving upwards, through multiple incarnations, toward an ever-simpler life form, tries to help his mistress analyze her troubles—even as the snow continues falling, the pain in the leg increases, and it becomes clear that this woman will have to venture into the wilderness in search of more firewood. Her wilderness adventure yields an encounter with a polar bear personifying the woman's rage: Only by ripping the muscle out of her leg (and letting go of past resentments) can she tame the bear. Back at the cabin, a beautiful visitor named Nellie reminds the woman of someone she knows— someone who, it turns out, is the narrator herself, as others see her. All our heroine has to do, it seems, is learn to love all the selves Nellie has revealed to her, and love for other people will become possible at last. A highly unusual—and irritatingly strange—debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-15-100237-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1997

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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