The book's portrayal of Pandy feels both self-congratulatory and unintentionally unpleasant, the hostility toward male...

KILLING MONICA

Bushnell (One Fifth Avenue, 2008, etc.) is still playing her Sex and the City riffs in this self-referential sort-of satire about an author whose insanely popular fictional creation has taken over her life.

PJ “Pandy” Wallis created her fictional alter ego, Monica—think Carrie Bradshaw on steroids—in four bestselling novels and the movies that followed. The problem is that her newest book is not about Monica. It’s about Pandy’s ancestor Lady Wallis Wallis, who arrived in America in 1775—and, according to Pandy’s agent and suspiciously intimate confidant, Henry, historical fiction is a hard sell, so her editor has turned it down. As Pandy ponders whether to give in and write another Monica book, she relives her career. Along the way she became best friends with the actress who played Monica on screen, SondraBeth Schnowzer. During their days of wild, often drunken gal-pal escapades, they called themselves PandaBeth. Their friendship, which has an unexplored homoerotic undertone, ended when hot actor Doug Stone slept with both of them. Despite the gaggle of indistinguishable friends surrounding her now, Pandy still misses SondraBeth. The last time they spoke, SondraBeth warned Pandy that her husband-to-be, celebrity chef/restaurateur Jonny Balaga, was not a nice man. SondraBeth was right. Jonny went through Pandy’s money and cheated on her. What’s worse, he couldn’t swim, liked contemporary furniture, and didn’t properly appreciate the pedigree of Pandy’s Connecticut family estate. She’s now divorcing him, but the settlement requires her to fork over the $1 million advance on her newest book. Without a book contract there won’t be an advance, and Pandy worries what Jonny will go after instead—possibly the rights to Monica herself. But how separate is Monica’s identity from jet-setting Pandy’s? Or Bushnell's, readers may wonder?

The book's portrayal of Pandy feels both self-congratulatory and unintentionally unpleasant, the hostility toward male characters is virulent—the only good male in the book may not be one—and the sense of humor is nil.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-446-55790-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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