A long slog that might appeal to readers interested in the experience of Eastern European immigrants in 20th-century...

Train from Thompsonville

A coming-of-age novel about a Polish-American Catholic girl growing up in and escaping blue-collar life in upstate New York during the Great Depression and World War II.

Moses (Second Thoughts, Second Chances, 2015, etc.) relates the early years of Joanna Ludak, a girl living in the company town of Thompsonville with her immigrant family. It’s a tale of evolving freedom but increased cares and responsibilities for Joanna. She attends a strict parochial school, where a nasty nun and pedantic priest treat her unfairly. Moving on to a public high school, she begins to flower, excelling in her studies, finding her first love, and making friends. Meanwhile, her father, Joe, an orphan with a fourth-grade education, barely scrapes by doing piecework at a shoe factory, and her mother, Bertha, takes a job during the war to help make ends meet. Looked down upon by deeper-rooted Protestant families in town, Joanna’s family struggles. An in-law does succeed in home construction, but Joanna’s father is too proud to ask him for a job. Joanna breaks up with her first boyfriend, Daniel, after her best friend admits she’s been dating him as well. The novel concludes with Joanna heading off to college on a train, fulfilling a long-held fantasy of “her very own train from Thompsonville” to leave her grim hometown. Moses’ lengthy novel is uneven. Its main strength lies in laying out the brutal realities and basic unfairness of life—particularly for the young—and the struggle to rise above. Precocious Joanna succeeds thanks to her intelligence and grit. The book’s weaknesses include its length and lack of action; nothing much happens in a narrative of interiors and emotions that can seem unending. The writing can be very good, with lucid, detailed descriptions of people and places and an occasional much-needed dash of humor, but it also can ponderous and bombastic, with exhaustingly long, sinuous sentences clogging the pages. Compared with these faults, the narrative’s penchants for overusing quotation marks and weak passive verbs are merely annoying.

A long slog that might appeal to readers interested in the experience of Eastern European immigrants in 20th-century America, particularly their youthful female progeny.

Pub Date: July 30, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-4120-5334-1

Page Count: 442

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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