A promising first effort, deliciously creepy and often moving.

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OUTSIDE LANDS

This cohesive debut collection of seven stories, most taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area, revolves around the notion of rescue.

When nature is out of whack, humankind tends to pay the price. In these stories, as toxic landscapes pose a threat to individuals and communities, several characters undergo grotesque transformations or enter virtually catatonic states. In “Wawona,” a teenage girl unable to move after a surfing accident finds herself stuck in the back of her panicked boyfriend’s truck. Another predominant motif centers on water in a variety of forms: ocean, reservoir, rain, mist, fog; in Brunicardi’s narratives, this normally life-giving substance becomes volatile and dangerous. The title character of “The Quickening of Ethan Boyd” comes into contact with a contaminated stream and slowly slips into an altered state of being. In the final lines, a touching farewell to his beloved wife takes a bizarre turn and suggests a bloody, chaotic aftermath: “My sulfurous teeth await your soft shoulder.” In a compact space, the author constructs well-paced narratives with adequate character development and mounting suspense. For instance, descriptions of the elderly couple under siege in “Mountainous”—“Gordon looked at his wife of forty one years. She seemed so small and frail standing there in the middle of the room, like a frightened animal”—give readers a clear sense of the lifetime they have spent together and the sacrifices each partner is willing to make for the other as they confront demons. Not all of these tales rely upon fantastical elements to pack a punch. The most realistic story, “The Seeds of Antipathy,” is perhaps the hardest hitting. When his young son nearly drowns, Blake decides to face a tragic event from his past that he has unsuccessfully tried to forget. Boarding a plane, “He began to doze and was immediately awakened by the gliss of a pearly clarinet as the airline’s adopted theme song was piped into the cabin.” In one of the book’s most haunting images, a clarinet case eerily floats on the water’s deceptively calm surface.

A promising first effort, deliciously creepy and often moving.

Pub Date: June 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1600478727

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Wasteland Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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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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