Bad Days in Broadacre

A British screenwriter relocates to New England and becomes embroiled in small-town life in this novel.

Bill, a British writer, his wife, Catherine, and his son, Daniel, are living in France when opportunity comes knocking. Bill gets an offer to script an American TV series and double his current salary. He uproots his wife and son, installing them in a postwar timber house in the backwater town of Broadacre in New England, where he feels he will find all the tranquility he needs to focus on his craft. From his very arrival, the town appears to have other ideas. No sooner has the family stepped through the front door of its new home than it is disturbed by new neighbors coming by to introduce themselves and invite the clan to a party. Mary-Lou, the family discovers, is an overly flirtatious lawyer, and her husband Tom’s a broad-shouldered, lascivious builder. Soon Bill and Catherine find themselves caught in the unnecessary tangles of a small-town existence. They discover that there is a dispute regarding a shed built on their land. Their house is coveted. A property developer’s covert plan to build a working model village threatens the status quo. And what are all the mysterious goings on in the cemetery? And then come the murders. This book is intriguing, embellished by Crutchley’s (The Black Carriage, 2015) admirably quirky descriptive style: “The falling sun is painting the landscape as routinely as people go to church, as they dance in strange straight lines, obey their absurd speed limits, and as the weather is guaranteed to fall apart straight after Labor Day.” The charming work’s one flaw is that it takes on an ambitiously long list of characters, including crooks, state troopers, priests, and rabbis, which the author struggles to handle. It is not uncommon for a reader to have to backtrack to ascertain who is who and who does what. This is because Crutchley fails to draw sufficiently distinct portraits, to the extent that they become an anodyne blur. It is then necessary to reread passages to distinguish, among others, Tom the builder from Josh the “nose straightener.” But this minor confusion distracts little from an engaging and thoughtfully conceived plot. A family deals with a sleepy Northern town’s secrets in this enjoyably energetic romp.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 258

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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