An entertaining, if familiar, account of a midlife crisis in America.

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THE YEAR MARJORIE MOORE LEARNED TO LIVE

A debut novel unspools one year in the life of a disillusioned and self-destructive woman in a Dallas exurb.

Marjorie Moore is not satisfied. But this is hardly a new development. According to her parents, when she started learning to talk, Marjorie’s first word was “more,” though this might have been due in part to their negligent style. Now, age 40, she has a husband and two kids and lives in an “incomplete house, in an incomplete neighborhood…in Prairie Mound, a suburb of a suburb, near the suburb where she had grown up—but farther away from, rather than closer to, Dallas itself.” She drinks a lot of wine and pops Ambien and Xanax, either because she’s bored or addicted to them (she isn’t quite sure). She works as a receptionist at the local hospital, which makes it easy to get the pills. She’d love to go to Paris, though she finds that her compulsive shopping has been eating up a lot of the family’s financial resources. Really, it only makes sense for her to start selling pills to her friends as a way to make extra cash, and it certainly makes her life a little more interesting. So does renewing an old, flirtatious acquaintance with Stephen Singleton, a friend from high school whom she always had a bit of a crush on. As the months pass, her various secret behaviors become more and more serious, and the reasons that Marjorie has for doing them become less important than the fact that they may cause her to lose everything. Grotheim’s prose is bouncy and biting. She perfectly captures the worldview of Marjorie, who is slightly aware of her self-deluding tendencies (though not as aware of them as readers): “She would have preferred being called Marjorie, which was her given name and sounded sophisticated, like royalty, she thought. Resentful of her parents shortening it to Margie, a fatty’s name when in fact she was not, she had made better choices for her own kids.” The author’s voice and her strong sense of pacing make this a highly readable book even if the subject matter remains well-trod territory.

An entertaining, if familiar, account of a midlife crisis in America.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-942762-46-1

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Heliotrope Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 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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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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