A slow-boiling but richly atmospheric exploration of late-life love and regret.

WHERE ARE YOU?

A SEQUEL TO CHAPEL ON THE MOOR

Two former lovers reunite at the site of their decades-ago romance on a deserted moor in this sequel.

In Dempster’s (Chapel on the Moor, 2014) preceding novel, a young man named Frank Dole and a young woman called Merritt Geary are fascinated by the restoration of an old stone chapel built on an island’s wild moor far from the nearest village. Frank and Merritt also become captivated with each other, and the kind of torrid romance blossoms that readers have been conditioned to think will last a lifetime, even if the chapel doesn’t survive that first book. The sequel opens with the dashing of those expectations. Fifty years have passed since that original adventure; Frank married a woman named Sandra and settled down in San Francisco and Merritt likewise wed. The two have kept in touch only sporadically and superficially—but that changes when Frank receives an email from Merritt proposing that they meet. She’s recently lost her husband to cancer in Italy, and she’s coming to the United States for a class reunion and would like to see Frank before she goes back to Europe. A patiently elaborated story flows naturally from this ordinary beginning, a moody tale that will take the vivid characters to Boston, New York, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, and will also return them, inevitably, to their past on the moor all those decades ago. Dempster writes with an easy, approachable narrative voice. But it sometimes becomes burdened with ridiculous elements, as when Frank’s wife, during a discussion about a woman her husband hasn’t seen in 50 years, says, “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Frank,” or when the author attempts to reproduce a New England accent (“You folks was so excited when you came home talkin’ about yoah discovery, it clean slipped my mind to mention this phone call I got earliah”). In addition, Bostonians will wince at the mention of “Boston Commons.” Still, fans of the previous book should be intrigued by this unexpected kind of sequel.

A slow-boiling but richly atmospheric exploration of late-life love and regret.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79808-072-6

Page Count: 418

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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