A winsome tale that puts its quirky, rural characters on full display.


The Life and Times of Wilberforce Jones

Throop’s (Lizard Quest, 2011) second novel delves into the life of the eccentric title character and his equally curious friends and neighbors in a small country town.

When a journalist is told by his editor to leave the city and become a “rural correspondent,” he initially balks at the idea, but financial inducements and curiosity get the better of him. At his assigned destination he meets up with Cletus Jones, a “large, muscular, corn-fed country boy” who begins to tell him about his distant cousin, Wilberforce Jones, a man who’s led a remarkable life. For example, Cletus recounts a time that Wilberforce resolved to commit suicide by contracting food poisoning from local Mexican restaurants; he was dejected by the fact that his domestic partner had left him and because he was in debt from a scheme to win big at bingo. Unsurprisingly, the suicide plan failed, but Wilberforce used the experience to develop a recipe for salsa that became a successful, lucrative brand. Cletus also describes an incident in which Wilberforce became a preacher to a congregation that believed that a young celebrity (with a racy, leaked video) was an avatar of God. But Wilberforce isn’t the only person of interest here: Cletus also tells the story of Dennis Haney and Tad Elliot, two fellow townsfolk who gave a series of lectures denying that NASA astronauts actually landed on the moon, which culminated in a legal showdown. Throughout the novel, Throop manages to keep the many characters and occasionally tangential storylines in clear, comprehensible order. As the primary storyteller, Cletus is as engaging and unusual as any of the people he describes. The author also gives the provincial, but unnamed, town a strong sense of place. His liberal use of rural dialect may be distracting to some readers, however, and although the journalist/narrator is a learned city man, his occasional florid turns of phrase strain believability: “Without any outward show of rancor at my attempted sally of wit, Cletus resumed his story.” Most readers, however, will choose to overlook these minor transgressions and embrace this congenial novel’s charm.

A winsome tale that puts its quirky, rural characters on full display.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-1466397767

Page Count: 174

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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