A quick, satisfying read with a beautiful otherworldly feel; highly recommended for fans of John Steinbeck.

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SNAPSHOT

A novel delivers a rural fable, the story of a man trapped by his own choices.

Fast Eddie Burke always makes his life harder by trying to take the path of least resistance. He works at the coal mine, like almost every man he knows. His wife has left him, and he hints it’s because he didn’t stand up and fight to keep her. He drinks with his buddies in an abandoned house on Fridays. Everyone brings his own liquor. Most of Eddie’s meals are sandwiches from the store or fried squirrel or rabbit he hunts near his house. Just about everything makes him uncomfortable: going to church; hanging around a group of people. So when his co-worker Turp Lawson asks to join the drinking party, Eddie doesn’t know what to make of it. He decides to ask the other guys, and when they agree, Eddie starts down a road that will change his life. Turp seems to be taken with the idea of finally having friends. When Eddie shows the slightest bit of courtesy, Turp asks him over to the house for Sunday dinner. Turp’s wife, Marta, is immediately taken with Eddie and initiates an affair behind her husband’s back. Marta has a habit of belittling Turp, who has never had much confidence. And when Turp brings some questionable moonshine to the drinking bash, he goes off the rails, which only brings Marta and Eddie that much closer. In this short, enjoyable tale, Helvey (Claw Hammer: A Gathering of Stories, 2015, etc.) has a simple but cutting way with his prose. When Eddie happens upon an old man singing, the author has this to say about how the song affects the protagonist: “Even the words sounded strange and tired as though they were very old and had traveled a long way.” In addition, Helvey’s remarkable rural setting and resonant characters are eerily unstuck from time. There are coal mines and family-owned local shops, and the owner of the mine, Eller Whitman, comes off as a dandy millionaire from decades back. But the titular snapshot is a Polaroid, and the cars seem modern.

A quick, satisfying read with a beautiful otherworldly feel; highly recommended for fans of John Steinbeck.

Pub Date: Dec. 30, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2017

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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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