A self-deprecating, self-aware—and engaging—postmodernist tale.



Smith (Under the Suns, 2014) tells the story of an aspiring author with the same name writing a book a lot like this metafictional novel.

Formerly suicidal Ches Smith is wandering the mall seeking inspiration for his novel when he sees an amusing bit of anti-corporate art—a mannequin dressed like a homeless person: “A fetid stench emanated from the display such that store employees held hankies over their noses at a distance....At the mannequin’s feet, a homemade sign suggested customers check out Macy’s new iBum line out back by the dumpsters.” Ches follows a trail of stickers to the food court, where he encounters the artist, Thalia Tanner, a formerly suicidal guerrilla marketer and singer in a punk-country band. After their brief meeting, Ches becomes obsessed with Thalia, sensing in her a kindred spirit, only to learn shortly afterward that she was shot to death later that day at that same mall. His psychiatrist suggests that Ches write about her as a means of dealing with his feelings. His effort is made infinitely easier when the ghost of Thalia—or at least Ches’ hallucination of her—begins appearing to him. She says that he shouldn’t write a novel about her but rather about his experiences with her, starting with their meeting at the mall. The book he writes, therefore, starts to sound very similar to the one that the audience is reading. As he attempts to find her killer, deal with her oddball family, and find his authorial voice, Ches’ quest becomes increasingly abnormal. And self-aware. And deadly. The prose of Smith (the author) perfectly captures the sardonic, nihilism-tinged voice of Smith (the character), whose every writerly affectation is eventually called out by someone he meets. “A writer writing about finding his voice?” scoffs a co-worker he asks to read the book. “Done to death, man. While you’re at it, why don’t you write about a Prohibition-era PI, or a zombie holocaust, or horny vampires?” While the humor and conceit may not be every reader’s cup of tea, the author manages to keep things intriguing and find an ending that satisfies.

A self-deprecating, self-aware—and engaging—postmodernist tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942856-30-6

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Literary Wanderlust

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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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.


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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