Cartoonish coming-of-ager: a year in the life of a bunch of lovable New Jersey palookas on the upper-crusty open-road car- race circuit. It’s 1952, and Buddy Palumbo, just 19, may not be the most gifted mechanic to hang around Old Man Finzio’s Sinclair gas station, but he can’t stay away. Turning down his father’s offer of a union job in a chemical factory, Buddy is lured into the grease-pit by glimpses of Finzio’s curvaceous daughter Julie and by the macho auto-repair skills of ex-Marine Butch Bohunk. When Bohunk, in a drunken rage over the shrewish Mean Marlene, drives his battered Ford into a highway support somewhere outside Passaic, Palumbo becomes Finzio’s head mechanic and has to maintain the creamy white Jaguar XK120 roadster of tough-talking scrap dealer Big Ed Baumstein. A problem with the Jag’s touchy carburetor sends Palumbo to a Manhattan dealership, where he learns the sleazy tricks of the import luxury car trade from pompous owner Colin St. John and shifty sidekick Barry Spline. From there it’s a short hop to the world of open-road sport-car racing (on make-shift courses laid out on rural roads) in Bridgehampton. Big Ed is snubbed by upper-class blue bloods, while Palumbo is smitten with the skin-deep charms of Sally Enderle, girlfriend of wealthy cad Creighton Pendleton. Sports journalist Levy, a former semi-pro race-car driver, matches the street-smart savvy and honest labors of Palumbo and Big Ed against a predictable pack of rich snobs, with mostly predictable results, varying the formula only at the end, when an unforseen mishap at Watkins Glen ends open-road racing forever. Big Ed and Palumbo return to the sizzling asphalt of Passaic, where Palumbo wonders whether he’ll ever race again. Funny high-octane fuel for fans of the comic nostalgia tales of humorist Jean Shepherd; crowded equally with typecast characters and vivid racing scenes.

Pub Date: May 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18624-X

Page Count: 355

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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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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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.


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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