Whereas Austen was preoccupied with subtle digs at mores and manners, McCullough (Antony and Cleopatra, 2007, etc.) bursts...

THE INDEPENDENCE OF MISS MARY BENNET

In McCullough’s sensational sequel to Pride and Prejudice, wallflower sister Mary Bennet sheds her cocoon, as Elizabeth and Darcy contemplate divorce.

Mary, dismissed by her family as plain, has been for two decades designated caregiver to scatterbrained Mrs. Bennet, who passes on while awaiting tea. Twenty years after Elizabeth Bennet married Fitzwilliam Darcy, their marriage is threatened by sexual dysfunction on both sides. Darcy’s disappointed in his heir, Charles, thanks to vicious rumors spread by his jilted ex, Caroline Bingley, that the too-handsome Oxford scholar is light in the loafers. Slatternly sister-in-law Lydia, a hopeless drunk, has turned up at the Darcy country seat, Pemberley, to spew swoon-inducing profanity. Mary, now lovely thanks to cosmetic interventions by Lizzy’s pharmacist and dentist, but driven by her spinster’s crush on anonymous newspaper correspondent Argus, embarks on a quest to expose the outrages perpetrated upon England’s poor. Argus is really Darcy’s friend Angus, wealthy Scottish publisher of the Westminster Chronicle. Enchanted by Mary, this 40-ish bachelor dares not propose to the skittish bluestocking. Mary journeys across England by stagecoach, no way for a gentlewoman to travel, and encounters situations unimaginable or at least indescribable by Austen. She’s pawed by ruffians, waylaid by a highwayman named Captain Thunder and kidnapped by the “Children of Jesus,” a cave-dwelling congregation of abandoned children led by a renegade alchemist named Father Dominus. Angus, Darcy and Charles, who’s manning up, search for Mary. Darcy’s devoted fixer and factotum Ned is also on Mary’s trail, along which he’s surreptitiously strewn several corpses. Mary, the titular heroine, is still, despite her makeover, too bland to be interesting. The attention-grabbers are Lizzy, whose sarcasm has begun to pall on Darcy, incorrigible harpy Caroline and, unexpectedly, self-appointed avenging angel Ned, who could anchor his own Georgian-era noir novel.

Whereas Austen was preoccupied with subtle digs at mores and manners, McCullough (Antony and Cleopatra, 2007, etc.) bursts from the drawing room to paint Austen’s milieu in lurid colors.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9648-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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