BLOOD RELATIONS

A plaintive novel of social protest, originally published in Spanish in 1982, whose targets are the oppressive mine owners of northern Mexico and a Catholic Church that condemns its parishioners for daring to dream of better lives. Montemayor, a veteran novelist with impressive academic and literary credentials, structures his fervent tale of one impoverished family's ordeal less as a narrative than as a series of meditations that focus recurring attention on pivotal remembered incidents, emotions, and images. His protagonist, Refugio, a younger son prevented from working in the mines by his father and elder brother, is thus ``saved''—to struggle to support his own growing family, and to bury those whom the mines claim, seeing prefigured in their deaths his own, and those of others yet to be born. Refugio's memories of the demise of his grandfather and namesake (in 1931) are juxtaposed with the emotional experience of losing his beloved brother Antonio (in 1955), and with regularly interpolated burlesques of several sacraments, which express with bitter irony the church's lordly contempt for the body and senses and its injunctions to forgo even minimal pleasures and creature comforts (``May God forgive you for living''). The novel virtually eschews dramatic action (it's almost a shock when Refugio recalls his grandfather's tales of matching wits with Pancho Villa) but attains a haunting reality in its creation of a heat-and-dust- clogged landscape where hills cast shadows as if they're animals, and everything seen suggests the omnipresence of suffocation and death (young Refugio, noting his brother grown old beyond his years, ``felt as if someone were throwing handfuls of dirt in my face''; grandfather Refugio throws stones as far away from him as possible, sensing they'll be part of the weight pressing on him after he is dead and buried). Both less and more than a novel, this moving story—appearing in English for the first time—is given unity and resonance by the intensity of its imagery.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-917635-16-7

Page Count: 118

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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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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