Successful as a parable; less so as a novel.

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Into Light and Shadow

A JOURNEY

In Gordon’s debut novel, a near-death experience sparks an eclectic search for spiritual fulfillment.

Steve Forrest is a quintessential go-getter. From his career as a high-powered corporate lawyer to his passion for mountaineering expeditions, Steve relentlessly pursues his goals. It’s only after a near-lethal accident on the slopes of Mount Everest leaves him partially paralyzed that Steve recognizes his life as a shallow “exercise in ego.” Fired from his soulless job, served divorce papers by his embittered wife, and reeling from the loss of his mobility, Steve is forced to focus on what he calls the Light: a sense of all-consuming love that surrounded him during his accident and showed him the errors of his previous lifestyle. Guided by Father Jack, a preternaturally wise Catholic priest/psychotherapist/Zen Buddhist he meets in the hospital, Steve embarks on a quest to redeem his misspent life. Gordon tracks Steve’s experiments with an array of spiritual traditions, from Christian mysticism to Chinese qi gong. Along the way, Steve repairs his relationships with his children, joins an environmental law firm, and reconnects with his Native American roots, among other admirable accomplishments. Despite his ostensible struggles, Steve’s success seems preordained from the outset; he tidily overcomes each new obstacle in his path, steadily progressing toward enlightenment. Rather than fully realized individuals, the supporting characters, particularly all-knowing Jack, read as plot devices tailor-made to enhance Steve’s growth. Much of their dialogue is rather unrealistic: “I suspect the terror you’ve been feeling is rooted in your ego.” However, what the book lacks in character development and narrative tension, it makes up for in philosophical sophistication. Gordon is clearly knowledgeable about the religious concepts that Steve encounters, and his explanations of them are clear and engaging. Though he draws heavily from Zen Buddhism, the author’s omnivorous, nondenominational take on spirituality is refreshing, and he deftly balances and integrates each of the many traditions that come into play. Particularly for readers interested in pursuing their own spiritual development, Steve’s story may serve as a useful and enjoyable model. 

Successful as a parable; less so as a novel.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9912772-0-9

Page Count: 334

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 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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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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