ARE WE NOT MEN?

STORIES

A powerful and varied debut collection, sharing a theme of loss and alienation, from the author of the highly praised novel The Lost Son (1995). These 13 stories, some of which have appeared in The Atlantic, GQ, and the Antioch Review, could have been titled ``When Bad Things Happen To Good People.'' Well-meaning people down on their luck press on, but keep getting hammered by fate. Spencer's heroes, like the man in the title story whose wife has just left him, are the shy types who, as children, ``were always good at hide-and-seek. Too good.'' In many of these pieces, wives leave their husbands. And in two, ``Encantado'' and ``All Along the Watchtower,'' Spencer's men watch desperately as their wives lose their minds and are institutionalized. In the grimmest selection, ``The Small Things That Save Us,'' a crippled, hard-luck farmer must watch as his cattle slowly freeze to death. Luckily, Spencer has a deft touch, and his stories never slide into the maudlin; he catches the perseverance exhibited by ordinary people battered by life, trying to make yet another go at love, marriage, children, or a job. In ``This is the Last of the Nice,'' the hero's wife leaves, ostensibly to go rafting, then sends her husband a postcard saying that she's not coming back. Driven by that blow into group therapy, he looks around and reflects that ``It's Junior High. We're backed up against the emotional gym wall, knowing we'll never get invited to dance.'' These lucid, wry moments are sprinkled throughout Spencer's work. When he indulges in comedy, as in ``The Hazards of Poetry,'' in which an aspiring romantic poet moves to Venice only to find fetid canals and noisome tourists, Spencer can be devastatingly funny. There are no easy answers here, and no quick fixes. An engrossing collection filled with vulnerable, decent human beings, by a talented observer of decent, taciturn people leading lives of quiet desperation. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1-55970-357-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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