Finch treats serious issues whimsically without being flippant, to deeply entertaining effect.



A fast-paced, bizarre, iconoclastic farce anchored by an endearing filial relationship between a journalist and his assistant.

Finch’s novel follows Arthur Magpie—abrasive, highbrow, English journalist and high-functioning, chain-smoking alcoholic—who almost always calls his assistant “darling” and crashes his automobile into something on almost every road. The narrator of the tale is Arthur’s assistant, Ian Swansea, who recounts in an author’s note that he was employed by Mr. Magpie from 2002-2010, following their first chance encounter during an incident involving stampeding bulls, loose from a staged apocalypse complete with ceremonial robes and a Venetian mask. Finch’s book is exhaustively funny; as Arthur and Ian move from assignment to assignment, there are book jokes, philosophy jokes, smutty jokes, pratfalls and shtick, and wild plot turns around every corner. The story is as outlandish as its chapter titles, which include “Another Donkey Holiday,” “Disco Cupcakes” and “Burning the Ken.” The one-liners are riotous—“Christ was a lot of things, but he was a socialist first and foremost”—and lampooned versions of political figures and authors, the targets of Arthur’s cutting pen or irreverent tongue, are amusing. But the strongest laughs come from the work Finch puts into developing Arthur and Ian’s rapport. Most of the novel reads like an idea for a whodunit drowned in Benzedrine and barbiturates and re-imagined as a satire of the last few decades. Without the genuinely caring master-acolyte relationship, the book is multidirectional to the point of being a bit of a blur. So many characters are introduced and continents traversed, literally and metaphorically, that the loose plot doesn’t unwind until the end of Chapter 5 (out of 10), “After Hours in the Afterlife,” when it’s revealed that the death threat Arthur received earlier was perpetrated by a former student, and that the story racing toward resolution, peaceful or bloody, regards the plot on Arthur’s life. Through it all, Arthur doesn’t stop for air, and readers won’t either, so long as they don’t mind diversions.

Finch treats serious issues whimsically without being flippant, to deeply entertaining effect.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0615540122

Page Count: -

Publisher: Carrier Pigeon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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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.


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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