To the reader’s amusement, Henry discovers more about himself, the Bible and the ways of the world than he’d ever...

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THE BIBLE SALESMAN

The Lord works in humorously mysterious ways in this Southern picaresque teaming a jaded car thief and a young, impressionable Bible salesman.

The wry, latest from Edgerton (Lunch at the Piccadilly, 2003, etc.), set in his native North Carolina, concerns the unlikely bond between a pair of disparate characters. Preston Clearwater, who looks vaguely like Clark Gable, is a slick criminal who has graduated from stealing 1,600 pairs of aviator sunglasses during World War II to participating in a car-theft ring run by a war buddy. Clearwater’s work requires an accomplice to drive the cars he steals. Providence provides him with a partner when he picks up a hitchhiker named Henry Dampier, a 20-year-old Bible salesman who is very gullible and naive though not necessarily stupid. Henry has a scam of his own, sending away for free Bibles from missionary organizations and then selling them door to door. Raised by a pious aunt and a more fun-loving uncle after the freak accident that killed his father, Henry is trying to find his way in the world, looking to the Bible as a moral compass, though confused by the mixed messages it sends. Preston convinces Henry that the car thief is really an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a car-theft ring, and he offers Henry more money than he makes selling Bibles, while allowing him to sell Bibles on the side. Chapters alternate between ones titled “Exodus” (Preston and Henry on the road in the early 1950s) and “Genesis” (Henry’s early years of the 1930s), in that order, before culminating in “Revelation.” Along the way, there is a little sex (which complicates relationships) and a little violence (which leads to discovery). Yet plot is secondary to character, with most of the humor deriving from the contrasts between the partners whom fate has brought together.

To the reader’s amusement, Henry discovers more about himself, the Bible and the ways of the world than he’d ever anticipated.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-316-11751-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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