EIGHTY-FIVE HALLOWEENS

An octogenarian recalls his life in a collection of anecdotes.

  Harris writes “for pleasure and for the occasional shock of revelation when my writing uncovers a personal secret I’ve been keeping from myself.” It is both this humor and catharsis that punctuate many of the 100-plus stories spanning the author’s eight decades. The writings are medicinal within the backdrop of Harris’ psychiatric journeys, but the passing of his psychiatrist impels a different, if not cheaper, remedy. What better way to get relief than cutting your income in half because you no longer have to financially support your doctor? These occasionally self-deprecating tales are semi-chronological, but they are also sometimes more like disorganized ramblings that, overall, seem to have little coherence or identity. The grab bag of yarns does well on the level of individual stories, depending mostly on an occasional quick wit or clever observation. The speculation on the meaning of a mother mashing her son’s middle finger in the car door is irreverent and funny. The theory that everyone needs a nemesis is certainly made more interesting by the tenant Marbo, a man whose health actually improves when he is once again able to regularly argue with someone. And most readers (probably men) will be able to relate to the counsel of relationship love tests or the futility of arguing with your wife, no matter how high the temperature climbs. These stabs for humor or philosophy, however, endure two very evident shortcomings. One is that they are too few and far between. There is certainly an accumulation of living in 80+ years, but the author’s experiences aren’t overly exciting or compelling. Part of this problem is in the writer’s identity. Readers learn that Harris wrote some pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle, but his renown ends there. The other shortcoming is the medium. It could very well be that Harris is a great storyteller, but writing is simply a poor conveyance. The reader might get the sense that people named Old Dutch, Horse-Face Horace or Eye-Ball Brown are more compelling or funny in the oral tradition of storytelling. Perhaps the stories are just more in the vein of, “You had to be there.”   An often-aimless collection more suited to a different medium.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2010

ISBN: 978-1602646384

Page Count: 304

Publisher: VBW Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2011

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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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