A disjointed novel about women dealing with the fallout of mental illness.

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Dandelion Angel

Calico’s debut novel-in-stories captures moments in the lives of four German women, all raised by mothers suffering from borderline personality disorder.

This book’s quartet of mothers and daughters was inspired by Christine Ann Lawson’s nonfiction book Understanding the Borderline Mother (2002), and its four borderline personality “types”: the hermit, the queen, the waif, and the witch. Caren is “The Hermit’s Daughter,” a successful lawyer who nonetheless becomes meek around her impossible-to-please mother, Ute. A Christmas get-together turns ugly when Ute shrugs off Caren’s lavish gifts and delights in sharing humiliating stories with Caren’s infuriated husband. Single mother Irja is “The Queen’s Daughter”; her actress mother, Ada, is “usually critical, sometimes degrading, and every once in a while, downright cruel.” Irja learns that Ada discarded her grandson’s favorite toy, declaring it “disgusting,” and she realizes she must cut ties for her child’s sake. Jo, “The Waif's Daughter,” has sacrificed much to her mother Gudrun’s paralyzing fears. “However,” her therapist says, “it’s not up to you to solve your mother’s problems.” With this insight, Jo finds joy through horseback riding. Meanwhile, homeless bike messenger Mandy, “The Witch’s Daughter,” fled her mother Petra’s abuse when she was a teenager; she hasn’t spoken in a long time due to a stutter, until a chance encounter leads her to getting the help she needs. Calico fills her self-contained chapters with effectively symbolic unburdenings, such as Caren’s chopping off her brand-new, painful hair extensions (“When she was finished, she saw an unfamiliar woman in the mirror….And, for the first time, Caren smiled, and it didn’t hurt a bit”) and Irja’s deleting Ada’s contact info from her phone. However, these tales tend to stop and start abruptly, giving the novel as a whole a scattered feel. The overall impact of Calico’s message—that the mentally ill can be abusers and the abused must tend to their own needs first—is unfortunately weakened by the book’s diffuse structure.

A disjointed novel about women dealing with the fallout of mental illness.

Pub Date: July 5, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 121

Publisher: 4th Floor Press, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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