GROOM LAKE

An experimental fantasy about government secrets, UFOs and the looming threat of America’s military-industrial complex.

Readers expecting a paranoid polemic about the mysterious and nefarious exo-political goings-on at Area 51 will be surprised: this is a novel. Readers expecting a fantasy structured around the cultural ballyhoo surrounding Area 51 will be surprised: this story is all true—or at least this is what the author wants us to believe. Or does he? It’s a playful strategy and will deeply satisfy readers who love fringe culture (e.g., cold fusion, UFOs, remote viewing, et al.), but as the author directly addresses his readers, challenging them to figure out if the prefatory letter to his novel is authentic and if he might not be a black-ops hero disseminating an intergalactic revelation, the spell is preemptively broken by being so on the nose with the strategy of ambiguity. What is much more likely is that like so many self-proclaimed investigators and investigations into Area 51 and the shadow government, this novel is a bold, intelligently conceived piece of wish fulfillment and self-promotion. No problem for addicts of the fringe, but readers unfamiliar with the world of UFO/conspiracy should be advised this comes with the territory; in fact, were it not for such ingenuous personalities, there would be no fringe culture of which to speak. The hero of the narrative, which is addictively broken up with presumably fictitious essays and reports from operatives and officials in the know, is the strikingly named Ben Skyles, a USAP (Unacknowledged Special Access Project) operative. It is with his Byzantine journey through the shadow world that the author reveals his message. A deal has been brokered between the military-industrial complex and extraterrestrials, and nations have powers of control that would make even the fabulist teleplay writers of The X-Files blush. For this kind of book, an author’s self-importance is finally not a hindrance but a benefit, and it’s more or less understood that the author is the real hero here. The narrative proper is engaging and fast paced, but again some of the spell of its climax is broken when the author can’t help but remind us just how diligent we must be in uncovering the truth about aliens and how lucky we have been to receive this particular revelation. A dynamic work of fringe culture that will entertain and intrigue readers if not convert them to the UFO religion.

 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615200996

Page Count: 322

Publisher: MOBO Inc.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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