BACHELOR BROTHERS' BED AND BREAKFAST

Broadcaster Richardson, billed as Canada's Garrison Keillor, suffers from the literary humorist's bane: He shoots for whimsy, but ends up wallowing in clichÇ. The novel, an elaboration of segments broadcast on CBC Radio, explores the background, opinions, and experiences of eccentric twin brothers who maintain a bed and breakfast on an island near Vancouver. An inheritance from their auto-mechanic mother, Virgil and Hector's stressless house sports a hefty library of books that Richardson deems worthwhile: Proust, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt, A.A. Milne. The boys have remained bachelors into their 50s—though Hector has a girlfriend, Altona Winkler, who writes for the scandalous local newspaper, Occasional Rumor. They live quietly with a cat named Waffle and a parrot named Mrs. Rochester, taking in guests who recount their impressions and stories in the brothers' guestbook. Richardson alternates sketches narrated by Hector or Virgil with guest accounts, each of which is identified as a ``Brief Life'': A woman recalls how she got her cocker spaniel; a lawyer reports on a harrowing New Age Weekend; a guest complains about Mrs. Rochester's cursing. The brothers' tales are less cloying, but they often seem phoned-in. ``The Top Ten Authors Over Ten Years at the Bachelor Brothers' B&B'' (Margaret Atwood, Anthony Trollope) and ``Virgil's List of Books for When You're Feeling Low'' (M.F.K. Fisher shares space with Vikram Seth) are two examples of Richardson's annoying list-making habit; there are stories about fanciful eggcups and a meditation on the subtle arts of reading and writing in bed. Flip-flopping in this manner puts enormous pressure on Richardson to be funny, which he almost never is, mainly because he's driven to celebrate the merits of a dowdy domestic life. Included are even some bad poetry and a muffin recipe. By and large, a collection of cloying cuteness and failed wit.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1996

ISBN: 0-312-14546-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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