Smart, funny, heady, thoughtful, literary; this collection can be enjoyed on many levels by many different kinds of people.

THIS LIFE AS TOLD BY AN OLD NDN

With a beautifully written frame story in the vein of One Thousand and One Nights, The Decameron, and Canterbury Tales, Hansen (Raven’s Spear, 2017, etc.) proves short fiction is a genre in which he shines.

Uncle is a chain-smoking, coffee-swilling, cussing old coot who can weave stories out of smoke rising from an unconscious man. This venerable Native American fashions a series of such tales for a group of children, stitching together the life of Tomtom, the man who lies before him. The Uncle sections are simultaneously humorous, instructive, and world-weary, while the Tomtom stories dance in time, referencing, foreshadowing, and illuminating one another as they construct a biographical and psychological portrait of a mixed-race (Native American and white) young man. The stories range from the Twilight Zone–like “Goat Man,” which mixes teenage ennui with a supernatural hitchhiker, to the laugh-out-loud “The Day I Heard the Bell Ring,” which involves a wild ride on a cooler of beer while slyly alluding to Hansen’s own Tricksters’ War Trilogy. Both the frame (“His words were flecks of gold and smoke that leapt out at the fire before weaving back towards the children’s ears”) and the tales (“they cut away those parts of themselves they do not want. But those parts never go away, hanging from them like dead limbs never to be fully amputated”) are elegantly written and image-filled. Whether Tomtom is wrecking his father’s car and running off to live in a tent or forever swallowing unsaid words of love, each tale abounds with running themes, symbols, and allusions. The ability to see outward from darkness versus the inability to see into darkness, along with the idea of being loved but not wanted, permeates, while the appearances of wasps and butterflies continually portend and color events. The stories Uncle draws out of Tomtom highlight the life of a man in turmoil and just might bring him peace.

Smart, funny, heady, thoughtful, literary; this collection can be enjoyed on many levels by many different kinds of people.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-979748-35-3

Page Count: 278

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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