When all is said and done, one’s love/hate relationship with this book leans to the side of love.

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TIME'S A THIEF

In 1980s New York, a naïve young intellectual is entranced, employed, exasperated, and expelled by members of a wealthy family.

Firmani’s debut tells the story of Francesca “Chess” Varani from her first year at Barnard until “the day when youth finally died” two decades later, when she learns what became of a wealthy college friend named Kendra Marr-Löwenstein, whose writer mother she worked for as a personal assistant, whose musician brother she fell in love with, whose whole exotic, damaged family bewitched her then betrayed her utterly. Like last year’s Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, it is the coming-of-age of a young woman under the influence of unwholesome Manhattan sophisticates; like the previous year’s City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, it is a nostalgic paean to the city’s recent past, studded with continual highbrow references. One character’s personality is summed up by the fact that she reads Jürgen Habermas in the original German, another leaves a conversation about Ivan Chtcheglov’s Formulary for a New Urbanism to puke in an umbrella stand, and everything Chess sets eyes on recalls one artist or another. Despite her generous hand with her encyclopedic knowledge of everything, Chess is an engaging character, often very funny and cool. From working-class Italian origins in a burg she calls Barfonia, she details her enchantment by the Marr-Löwensteins from the night she meets Kendra standing in the street at 4 a.m. with blue hair, a clutch purse sagging with dexies, and the air of “deposed royalty.” She asks Chess for a light. “Of course I had a light. I was born with a Zippo in my hand,” Chess tells the reader. The Marr-Löwensteins, Salinger-esque in some ways (the one Chess falls for is named Jerry), are the novel’s biggest problem. Unremittingly described in the most extreme, overheated terms, not one of them ever seems like a real person, and they don’t act like real people either, disappearing without a trace for years at a time, reappearing in places they can’t possibly know Chess will be, both more awful and more magical than they need to be to engage our emotions.

When all is said and done, one’s love/hate relationship with this book leans to the side of love.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-54186-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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