Absurd and comic but with a bitter edge, this novel takes a unique and refreshing approach to the darker aspects of Mexico’s...

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THE ENLIGHTENED ARMY

The reconquest is on, and it’s being led by an old man and a clutch of high school students.

Shortlisted for the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize, this is Toscana’s fourth novel to be translated into English (The Last Reader, 2004, etc.). Ignacio Matus is sick and tired of the United States of America. As a public school history teacher in Monterrey, Mexico, Matus spends most of his class railing against the cruel injustices and depravities of Mexico’s neighbor to the north. But his gripes aren’t just political, they’re Olympic. Matus is convinced that he is the rightful winner of the 1924 Olympic bronze medal for the marathon and not the American who walked away with the prize—this is despite the fact that Matus wasn’t an official competitor and staged his own parallel race through the streets of Monterrey. When Matus is fired from the school for one rant too many, he decides it’s time to conquer the beast. But his call for an invading army is only answered by a few friends and a handful of students. Calling themselves los iluminados (“the enlightened ones”), the dreamers march north with visions of glory and history in their heads. When los iluminados cross the Rio Grande (in only a few steps) and quickly conquer the Alamo (a two-story house), the stage is set for a showdown between the forces of good and evil. If they’re actually in the United States. The novel jumps back and forth between Matus’ ramshackle adventures, his old age, when he attempts one more marathon, and a post-mortem exploration of his legacy, or at least an attempt to find anyone who really remembers him. Like the novel itself, Matus is both compelling and absurd. The novel is funny in a cringe-inducing way and has an undercurrent of sadness and tragedy we can’t look away from. We read almost with our hands over our eyes, anxious for the safety of these dreamers too innocent to fear their own naiveté. Toscana’s postmodern satire explores the darker side of Mexico’s impression of the United States and Mexico’s own place “toward the bottom where the crumbs are handed out.” The jokes are obvious, but the message is subtle and deft.

Absurd and comic but with a bitter edge, this novel takes a unique and refreshing approach to the darker aspects of Mexico’s relationship to the United States.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4773-1777-8

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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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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