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

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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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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