Fitfully funny send-up of sitting ducks.

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FENDER BENDERS

Good songs, a great smile, and a fabulous p.r. campaign put a hard-working country singer on the top of the Nashville charts, easing the pain of his late wife’s departure.

Fitzhugh (Cross Dressing, 2001, etc.) applies his school-of-Carl-Hiaasen technique to the capital of country music, dragging in enough characters to fill the stage at the Ryman Auditorium. Handsome young Eddie Long has been working the dives and frat parties at the bottom levels of the country-music food chain long enough to cultivate a real good stage presence and some not bad songs, and he’s itching to move up in the world. His purty young wife Tammy, daughter of the local Dollar Store owner, itched for something else while Eddie was singing out of town, but she’s dead now, the latest victim in a string of adulterated headache-powder deaths. Eddie turns his widower’s grief into a whale of a song that gets him an audience with Big Bill Herron and Franklin Peavy, a couple of downwardly mobile music producers who set their mutual loathing aside for what looks to be a boy with a future. They’ve met their match, though. Eddie’s not only talented, but he can read a contract. And he has his own ideas about how to turn that real sad song into a chart buster using the power of the Internet. Watching and chronicling Eddie’s moves is his Boswell, freelance music reviewer Jimmy Rogers, who will lose his Country deejay girlfriend Megan to Eddie as Eddie’s self-designed, Internet-based publicity campaign takes him to the top of the charts. Heartbroken and pretty damned bitter about being dumped, Jimmy starts turning Eddie’s biography into a police procedural, checking into that awfully convenient removal of Tammy from the career path. Singing backup in this Music City Saga are Otis and Estella, shrimp restaurateurs with big grudges against Big Bill, talented but totally un-savvy singer Whitney Rankin and his long-lost daddy, and a few law enforcement types.

Fitfully funny send-up of sitting ducks.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97757-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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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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