A dark semiautobiographical first novel in which action flourishes at the expense of character development.

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WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO

The father’s a killer, the mother’s an addict, and the son’s just plain trapped in this blunt-force account of an Appalachian family.

Charlie McNeely controls the lucrative crystal meth business in his neck of the woods; his estranged wife, Laura, is one of his customers. The work involves killing; real men kill, and the rest are pussies, according to Charlie. Having cops on his payroll provides protection. With bad McNeely blood in his veins, the self-loathing 18-year-old Jacob sees himself as trash. Two years earlier, he broke up with his childhood sweetheart, Maggie, not wanting to drag her into the abyss. Now Jacob is facing a manhood test Daddy has set up. (As narrator, he calls his parents Daddy and Mama.) Robbie Douglas, an employee, has snitched and must be disposed of. In the deep-woods shack, he finds the Cabe brothers, also employees, have Robbie tied up and bleeding. The brothers splash him with sulfuric acid and leave him for dead on the mountainside. It was a sloppy job. Robbie is found, unconscious but alive. Now it’s the Cabes’ turn. Big Daddy beats them bloody, shoots them and has Jacob help him dump them in the lake. Jacob is now accessory to two, maybe three murders, and his situation becomes even more dire when he discovers his blood-soaked Mama, who has shot herself at his Daddy’s urging. Still, there’s a glimmer of hope when Maggie, who is a Good Woman, returns to him, saying “You’re the strongest man I know.” Might Jacob overcome his fatalism? Joy struggles with that, just as he struggles to give complexity to that dead-eyed evildoer of a father, but he ultimately finds it simplest to obey his first commandment: Shed blood.

A dark semiautobiographical first novel in which action flourishes at the expense of character development.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-17277-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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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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