Sublimely understated frights, both brooding and indelible.

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Collected Stories

ANGEL OF MERCY & SEVEN OTHERS

This debut collection offers a series of disconcerting tales in which characters experience horror that’s more metaphysical than palpable.

In many ways, this book is populated by prisoners, beginning with “Angel of Mercy,” in which quadriplegic Marcus Ambrose is at the mercy of his caretaker wife, Elena. But as the story reveals, he may have already been locked inside a seemingly cold relationship. Fate often directs the characters, leading them to unavoidable dark conclusions and making all the tales rather gloomy. In “The Butterfly,” for instance, Benedict and Star’s sexual congress is enhanced when she demands he bite her fresh wound. But once the cut heals, Star will inevitably crave much more. Similarly, the unnamed female narrator in “Satan’s Lure” tends to the hungry and helpless Vern, hiding in the cellar from her father. But it isn’t long before the two give in to their primal urges. There’s religious allegory running throughout the volume, but like the stories’ horrific elements, Pizzarello effectively downplays it. Two of the more notable examples are the successive “The Silence” and “Fugues.” With shades of Kafka’s The Trial, the former follows an unknown man who may be facing punishment but is unaware of any crime (or sin) he’s committed. In the latter, Arnold is so intent on appeasing his Roman Catholic parents that he’s hiding within himself, an entity that sticks close to the marrow and sees Arnold as an automaton, only occasionally taking over. A standout among a stellar series is “The Stranger,” in which Nugent becomes fixated on a stranger who has way too much clout for having just arrived in town. Nugent’s paranoia turns dangerous, as he starts seeing anyone with a smirk like the stranger’s as a “minion” and himself as the people’s savior. It’s astounding that Pizzarello manages to end every story with a punch. There’s definite resolution in each case but always with a lingering uneasiness: what if, say, there’s merit to Nugent’s obsession? The book’s other tales, “The Gift of Life” and “Tabula Rasa,” are tender but ultimately unnerving companion pieces, featuring, respectively, a man with terminal cancer and a guy asking his best friend to be a sperm donor.

Sublimely understated frights, both brooding and indelible.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 223

Publisher: Book County Distribution

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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