A poised and effective Rashomon-style exploration of multiple psyches.

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ENCIRCLING

One man’s amnesia prompts divergent and sometimes-conflicting remembrances from those close to him.

The central figure in this plainspoken but psychologically penetrating novel (the first in a trilogy) is David, who has lost his memory in an accident and places a notice in the paper requesting letters detailing his past. Three step up: Arvid, David’s stepfather and dying vicar in their small Norwegian town, and a pair of childhood friends, Jon and Silje. Tiller’s strategy is to establish a kind of public persona for each of them—Arvid cold and aloof, Jon antisocial and self-pitying, Silje free-spirited—and then muddy and blur that simplistic portraiture. Jon, for instance, is indeed an impossibly needy and sour musician—as the novel opens he’s called out on this by other members of his band, which he promptly quits—but his stories of his past and present reveal a struggle with family bullying, his lust for David, and an awareness of his inability to check his anger. And his story casts doubts on Arvid’s and Silje’s versions, just as theirs do his. (Did Jon truly have a fling with David, or was it just wishful thinking?) As with a Norwegian contemporary, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Tiller believes the path to interior insight comes via a straight march through unadorned detail: Arvid’s agony over his lost faith and David’s adolescent dark obsessions resonate with his painful stint in a hospital for cancer treatment, and Silje’s recollections of David’s malicious pranks (like leaving a ladies’ scarf on the scene of a man’s car accident to imply an affair) echo her crumbling marriage. There are still unresolved questions for the next two books to deal with, the identity of David’s biological father first among them, but this by itself is a wholly satisfying story about how unreliable narrators tell tales not just about events, but about our core emotions.

A poised and effective Rashomon-style exploration of multiple psyches.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55597-762-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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