Engaging, sweeping saga of a contemporary wife and mother.

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LORI

Lori Weinberg contends with her husband’s alcoholism, her daughter’s illness and her aloof mother’s Holocaust past in this piece of women’s fiction.

Lori’s husband, Jerry, falls off the wagon at their son’s wedding and is hauled off to a police station. “Can you believe the hell I’ve gone through with this man for the last thirty years?” she cries to her longtime best friend, Adele. The novel then shifts from 2001 to 1970, when Jerry takes Lori, raised in a posh North Shore suburb, into a lower-class Chicago neighborhood to meet his family. The Brills are more boisterous and strictly observant Jews than Lori’s family, which consists only of a “mom who is always sick, and a dad who is always gone.” Lori soon marries Jerry and becomes mother to Julie and Barry. Jerry works as a salesman for the dental equipment business that is only one source of income for Adele’s more successful husband, Jim. It then becomes increasingly apparent that Jerry is an alcoholic; plus, one of his brothers is always hatching financial schemes. When 14-year-old Julie is diagnosed with leukemia, Lori puts all other concerns on hold to deal with the brave girl’s journey, which includes a desire to visit Israel. As several deaths unfold, Lori forces Jerry to go into rehab in Arizona, where she meets Rain, a free-spirited woman with surprising connections to Chicago. The novel concludes in 2003, with Lori now able to stand on her own, empowered by a trip to Germany that unlocked the secrets of her now-dead mother’s sorrow. Author Wexler wrote several murder mysteries prior to penning this tale of a sheltered yet relatable woman facing a significant array of life challenges. Wexler’s scenes featuring Julie’s illness are particularly strong, being both heartfelt and heartbreaking. Lori’s attitude toward her husband is more puzzling; she often seems unsympathetic, even when his own childhood issues are exposed. Lori’s dynamics with female friends, her mother and her Jewish heritage are all intriguing but feel a bit rushed and underdeveloped within this expansive novel.

Engaging, sweeping saga of a contemporary wife and mother.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500431051

Page Count: 342

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2014

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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