A protracted parable about finding your true nature while on the road to strange places.

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The Journey From Ennuied

A debut novel offers a nestled allegory about a soul-awakening journey.

In this tale, a man named Jack Burchell is living in the bleakly regimented world of 2059, a world still reeling from the wars of the 2040s that “changed everything and set the earth on a new trajectory.” Burchell works facelessly for a multinational corporation. One day he defies his supervisors and visits his personal storage space, where he finds an old book that turns out to be his grandfather’s secret memoir, an account of a long walking adventure his grandfather and a friend named Khalid took, forsaking the horror-haunted land of Ennuied. In Ennuied, all life is organized around a plant called “fodder grass” (in a typically philosophical digression, Burchell's grandfather thinks, “I suppose all people have something like fodder grass, those most important things they grew up with and were told will meet their needs”). Ennuied is a dark, repressive, spider-haunted place, and Khalid and Burchell’s grandfather leave it without much compunction, heading into a broader world in which beautiful music wafts through the forests and time seems to lose its value. They encounter a variety of people and places in the course of their journeys, and the sentiment of one of the folks they meet, “we all know that we simply need to follow our heart,” becomes the theme running through their adventures. In clear and energetic prose, Braun poses one thinly veiled allegory after another about the various kinds of places seekers tend to find. The two friends meet many different types of fellow travelers on the road, and they reach a variety of lands and cities, from regimented Officium to solipsistic Heureux, each as stylized and dramatic as Ennueid. All of this—as well as the increasingly enigmatic companionship of Khalid—provokes in Burchell a series of reassessments of his life and preoccupations. Any reader who’s ever gone backpacking without a plan will likely nod at many of the realizations Braun describes in these pages.

A protracted parable about finding your true nature while on the road to strange places.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4602-7239-8

Page Count: 270

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2016

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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