The opportunities for cliché are endless, but Wagman avoids most of them. Matters of timing aside, a satisfying glimpse into...

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THE CARE AND FEEDING OF EXOTIC PETS

A sometimes slow-moving but evocative study in the oddball psychology—or better, psychologies—that is as much a Southern California hallmark as sun and surf.

Winnie Parker, her first name suggestive of victory, is a classic casualty: Her husband, a TV celebrity, has dumped her for a young woman with perfect breasts (“Lacy said Jessica’s boobs were fake, but Winnie thought they were just fresh and unused”), and now she’s left to cope with the harrowing hells of raising a teenage daughter single-handedly. Lacy, the rebellious daughter, is experimenting with things Winnie would prefer her to stay away from. From nearby, someone is watching all this, biding his time like a coiled rattlesnake until striking—in this instance, by kidnapping Winnie for reasons that become darker as the story unfolds. Wagman (Spontaneous, 2000, etc.), a screenwriter and novelist, is perfectly at home along the tortuous freeways and hidden arroyos of L.A.; a bonus of her insightful character study is a tour of the strange world of reptile trading, with the villain of the piece keeping his house jungly hot for the benefit of an iguana and another very bad person who “masqueraded as a photographer” stripping the wild of skinks and chameleons, snakes and salamanders. The bad guys are as redneck as the protagonist of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief but with nowhere near the manners, and it’s Winnie’s challenge to keep up with and stay ahead of them while remaining unraped and unkilled. In the end, what unfolds is a perfect plan gone awry—though, dreamed up by stupid people, the plan is of course nowhere near perfect, and therefore it goes just as sideways as it was foreordained to do. The atmosphere is as dense as the steamy, iguana-rich jungle of Oren’s dreams, with Wagman’s pacing sometimes slowing to a crawl, whereupon the impatient reader will have to resist the urge to jump ahead and get on with it.

The opportunities for cliché are endless, but Wagman avoids most of them. Matters of timing aside, a satisfying glimpse into a herpetological demimonde—and the weird households of sunny SoCal. 

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-93543-964-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ig Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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