An ambitious and intricate Eastern European tale that reaches across decades and generations.

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THE OTHER VIKI

Based on a true story, this debut novel tells of identical twins separated at birth and the harsh realities of life in Romania under Communist rule.

Spanning nigh on a century, the tale opens during the Depression in rural Romania. Economic strain has taken its toll on the Antonescu family. As heads of the household, Georgi and Olga steadily realize that their farm is no longer producing sufficient revenue to support everyone under their roof. Their ultimatum to their older children is harsh yet necessary: leave or die. So begins a story of heartache and displacement. Harald, who has acted as a caretaker to his younger siblings, packs the group into a cart and, taking the reins, sets out to find a brighter future. Immediately, Ana, his 11-year-old sister, distinguishes herself as the most discordant of the band, given to sulking when she’s asked to walk behind the cart to relieve the burden on their horse. Harald finds land to farm, and over the course of years, the family forges a new life, although Ana is never really happy. After running back to Georgi and Olga, she decides that she never will return to Harald. Instead, she marries a local policeman, Ion Pavenic. After Ana gives birth to identical twin girls, she suffers a chronic illness and is unable to look after both babies. Harald and his wife, Sophia, take one of the twins, whom they name Viki, and raise her as their own. Viki’s life is a remarkable one, raised in the suffocating conditions of Communist Romania under the scrutiny of the country’s secret service; will she ever find true freedom or discover the truth about being a twin? The author skillfully illuminates the family’s lineage, revealing precisely where the members have come from and the events that have shaped them. Their story is told with sincerity and intense conviction, which makes it all the more captivating. Bennett’s observational skills are highly tuned and effortlessly poetic, to the degree that the atmosphere of a room is wholly palpable: “In the weak lantern light, the family’s mingled breath gusted clouds of vapor that floated up and disappeared into the low ceiling’s exposed rafters.” The culmination of such talents is a beguiling, expertly balanced work played out by characters that are easy to care about and root for.

An ambitious and intricate Eastern European tale that reaches across decades and generations.   

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5246-7022-1

Page Count: 454

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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