Figures lifted from your own past and held up to the eye, molten with light.

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IN THE COUNTRY OF THE YOUNG

Eleven short stories as refreshing as brook water from veteran Stern (Twice Told Tales, 1990, etc.).

The tales here each have a quicksilver shine that pulls at the heart with those sweeping undercurrents readers once sensed in Chekhov and early Hemingway. Their only shortcoming is a slightly excessive facility: the action tends to glide by, and few events deeply etch themselves in the reader’s mind. But the stories read wonderfully, with music flowing everywhere: doomy Shostakovich quartets, Mozart duo piano pieces, Schubert at his most heartbreaking. In “Apraxia,” a writer whose book on Shostakovich has just been trashed by the critics, puts away his CD of the terror-stricken Tenth Quartet and strives to sneak step-by-step to bed in his wife’s curtained, pitch-black bedroom: still consumed by the quartet, he is suspended, Stern writes, in “the language of the grave.” Hustled over to a fancy restaurant for “Lunch with Gottlieb,” a naïve young college grad, just arrived in Manhattan circa 1975 to join Moss Gottlieb’s advertising firm, has to sit through an embarrassing sales pitch to a client and then haul his drunken new boss back to the office. In “Chaos,” lovers who have lived together for two years break up for the sixth time. An American couple take “The #63 Bus from the Gare de Lyon” to visit famous graves in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery; when they find a monument with the husband’s name on it, they decide in dismay to buy plots back home. In “Comfort,” a pair of middle-aged recovering drunks who have never married exist in turmoil that almost tears their limbs off. The title story shows young performers pitting music against Wittgenstein’s nothingness.

Figures lifted from your own past and held up to the eye, molten with light.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-87074-457-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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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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