A satisfying, involving, and well-paced story that effectively blends action and redemption.

THE SECOND CORTEZ

An apolitical English professor vows vengeance against the Mexican drug cartel that has infiltrated his hometown in this novel.

The cartel Segundo Cortez is escalating its reign of terror in the Mexican city of Veracruz. Its soldiers roam the streets hassling citizens with impunity. They have bribed policemen and become more brazen in their violence. But 32-year-old university professor Nicolás Nolano has elected to “keep out of all that business” and just “concentrate on my profession.” His mother; his brother, Esteban, a district attorney; and a local priest, meanwhile, are very public activists against the cartel. Esteban has recently filed suit against the cartel’s leader, Arturo Méndez. Nicolás insists that they would be better off keeping a low profile. “Laying low and biding your time is not how change is won in the world,” the priest counters. Nicolás’ warning that they are all setting themselves up “for tragedy” inevitably comes true, and he is alerted that he will be next. Though “merely a professor,” the radicalized Nicolás flees to America, where he plans to acquire weapons and training and then return “to strike at Segundo Cortez.” Wall (Water Lessons, 2014) has fashioned a fast-moving, immensely readable payback story. But Nicolás’ transformation might have carried more dramatic weight if on Page 2 he didn’t come to the rescue of a former student being hassled by Cortez thugs or soon after take heroic action to transport another young cartel victim to the hospital. Some dialogue is heavy-handed, as this exchange between Esteban and his brother: “Me, the idealistic attorney. You, the cynical literature professor. Damn, just like when we were boys. You always off in your bedroom, in your own universe, your nose in a book, dreaming. While I was out living. Making dreams into reality.” Ivan Méndez, an increasingly unstable successor to his father (and a former friend of Nicolás), is straight out of central casting. More nuanced is Hector Pantano, the compromised police chief, who has enabled the cartel but is suffering a crisis of conscience.

A satisfying, involving, and well-paced story that effectively blends action and redemption.

Pub Date: June 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-938749-44-5

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Enchanted Indie Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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