A vivid, messy portrait of the Wild West, with a satisfying high-energy conclusion that celebrates the triumph of the human...

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A WESTERN SAGA

A large, disparate cast of characters populates Ross’ historical fiction, a sprawling tale about the westward migration that marked America’s expansion during the 19th century.

In his gritty debut novel, Ross, a career writer and editor for newspapers and magazines in Ohio, embraces the ambitious task of depicting American history during the tumultuous period between 1830 and 1870. This involves covering the horrors of slavery, Andrew Jackson’s program to relocate all Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi, the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and the rampant cruelty inflicted upon those seeking a better future on the Western frontier. All “trails” in this sweeping narrative lead to Abilene, Kansas, what has been called the first “cow-town” of America. To get there, however, readers must travel with and become invested in a plethora of unconnected protagonists from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, even New York, and Vermont. Initially, it’s difficult to keep track of them all. They include displaced Native Americans, Texas Rangers hardened during the wars with the Comanche, escaped and freed slaves looking for a new life, and a soulful musician whose tragic loss leads him to leave the Louisiana bayou. Some grew up with—and lost—wealth and privilege: Eli Whitney “Whit” Brody from Natchez, whose family was wiped out by a tornado, and the Chase brothers from Vermont, who witnessed and suffered from the carnage of the Civil War. Everyone is damaged in some way by cataclysmic events, be they personal and/or social. Heartbreak, physical torture, and despair are never more than a few pages away. But there are also many moments of gentle kindness and great bravery. Cameo appearances by George Armstrong Custer and Mark Twain, as well as encounters with more than a few recognizable outlaws, add historical flavor. Ross even includes a good old street shootout. Amid the episodes of extraordinary violence perpetrated by all manner of miscreants, he manages to carve out a multitude of poignant, essentially short stories that coalesce into a coherent, positive reading experience.

A vivid, messy portrait of the Wild West, with a satisfying high-energy conclusion that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-939828-06-4

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Light Switch Press

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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