CHEAP TICKET TO HEAVEN

This powerfully imagined tale of a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde displays Smith's (Chimney Rock, 1993, etc.) furious overplotting and near-genius for lyrical intensity in just about equal measure. Jack Baker and Clare Manigault, a married pair who've been robbing banks and exploring their own commingled eroticism and lawlessness throughout 18 years together, are portrayed during their climactic odyssey through the South and Midwest—back to ``the evil spirit'' of her family that Clare fears and the vortex of suicidal hatred that dominated Jack's childhood. Smith's plot is driven by the lust for revenge exhibited by Clare's father, Francis, determined to hunt down the bastard son who murdered his ``legal'' half-brother, and by the avaricious malice of Donnie Bernardnick, a philosophical ex-con who schemes to draw Jack back into his destructive orbit. These, and others who surround them and sometimes become their victims, are drawn with sure broad strokes. They are looming grotesques whose inmost fears and desires are analyzed with a passionate urgency reminiscent, believe it or not, of Dostoyevsky: That's how good Smith can be when he's at his best. He's superb on the turmoil of motives that make Jack (in his own words) ``an obscure functionary in the cavalcade of crime.'' (Clare, by contrast, is comparatively opaque—seen essentially as Jack sees her.) We catch ourselves wishing Jack weren't portrayed as quite so self-probingly articulate; yet Smith's point has to do with the varieties of criminal experience and the different places such wholesale surrender to the demands of the id can take us. Violent acts and deaths abound here; some are so outrÇ that they are almost unintentionally comic. Almost. The book stares you down, dares you to laugh. Even the most willing reader may have trouble initially entering Smith's fever-pitched world. Once you're hooked, though, you're in it for the duration. This unforgettably vivid account of a dangerous journey is a real trip.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-3797-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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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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