A distinctive, engaging dual portrayal of wish fulfillment and gritty, hard work from a writer who understands artists.

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Artist in Residence

In New York’s Chinatown, a young painter agrees to line up worthy tenants for her landlady in exchange for free rent, with paradoxical effects on her art.

It’s 2009, with the Great Recession at its height, and 20ish Henriette Truax is finishing up art school, hoping to make new pieces for her own solo show. She faces a problem common to young artists trying to work and become known in New York City, “the art market’s world capital”—it’s hideously expensive. La Ma (short for Landlady Mary; real name Liu Mei Min), a tiny, dryly fierce Cultural Revolution survivor, owns Henriette’s Chinatown apartment house and proposes a deal: lower rent (later renegotiated to a rent holiday) if Henriette recruits suitable tenants. “No white trash. No trash black. No Chinese not legal. Bourgeoisie people,” explains La Ma. Henriette is reluctant, thinking her current neighbors are fine, but two part-time jobs aren’t enough to pay the rent and buy art supplies, so she agrees. Gentrification, though, pushes out Henriette’s quiet neighbors and introduces “an invading, displacing, colonizing force” that actually makes executing her artwork more difficult. In her thoughtful but tough-minded way, Henriette concludes: “Face it: my first duty is to myself, the myself I’m going to make of myself.” Inspired by the image of an abacus, Henriette’s work comes alive, and with La Ma’s patronage, she gains a huge opportunity granted to few young artists. In his debut novel, Harley often employs a somewhat heightened style that works well for the fantasy atmosphere. At one point, Henriette and La Ma’s male “minder” have this exchange: “I have rarely seen dungarees more elegantly modeled.” “In that case, kind sir, vamoose!” The author understands how artists think—visually, not so much in terms of narrative—and he gets how ruthless they must be, especially female ones, to succeed. For example, Henriette rejects her tipsy father’s plea to leave New York and return home (“Pop, you may wallow in eighty-proof self-pity for the rest of your days, but such an old age I find neither attractive nor, much though I have inherited your taste for whisky, even remotely sympathetic”). Harley’s images, too, are sharp and expressive: La Ma’s voice, for example, is “harsh as a raven greeting a chill dawn.”

A distinctive, engaging dual portrayal of wish fulfillment and gritty, hard work from a writer who understands artists.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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