Heady and smart, if you can follow the novel’s complex, associative train of thought.

THAT HAIR

A half-Portuguese, half-Angolan woman uses her hair to interrogate her position between two cultures.

The hair salons in Lisbon don’t know quite what to make of Mila, who moved at 3 years old from Luanda, the capital of Angola, to Portugal and whose hair is a “rebellious mane.” She makes demoralizing visit after demoralizing visit to these salons, where her hair is “pulled…this way and that,” subjected to treatments “whose abrasive chemicals require the use of latex gloves,” or worked into weaves at “a breakneck speed over four hours” (only to come undone soon after). But in this essayistic novel, Almeida's first to be translated into English, Mila’s hair isn’t simply a matter of personal anguish. “The truth is that the story of my curly hair intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the underlying story of the relations among several continents: a geopolitics.” Indeed, interwoven seamlessly throughout are stories and memories of her family: Her Angolan grandfather’s life as a nursing student in Luanda, the smell of her Portuguese grandmother Lúcia’s hair—“Feno de Portugal soap, tobacco, and oiliness”—as a young Mila combs it, her long strolls through Oeiras, in Lisbon, with her often absent mother. What Mila seems to be revolving around with all these shifting reminiscences is the fundamental doubleness of who she is. She introduces a photographic “self-portrait”: the famous 1957 photo of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, walking to school as white people behind her gawk and even bare their teeth. “I am all of the people in that portrait at once,” Mila declares. “The raging girls in the photo are the nervous tremor (which brings me shame) when a black man on the streetcar answers the phone, speaking loudly. ‘Shhh: pipe down,’ they say to me, I say to him, I say to myself. ‘Can’t you see the others?’ ” Almeida writes long, destabilizing, often disorienting paragraphs, where successive sentences can shift radically in time and space. But the reader is pulled along throughout by a sly, evasive humor—where unreliable memory ends, Almeida seems to say, storytelling begins.

Heady and smart, if you can follow the novel’s complex, associative train of thought.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947793-41-5

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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