FLAMBOYANT

Playwright/novelist Swados (The Myth Man, 1994, etc.) sends an Orthodox Jewish woman to teach English in a school for gay teenagers. Chana Landau appears ill-equipped to deal with the teen prostitutes and cross-dressers at Manhattan’s Harvey Milk High. Her sheltered family home doesn’t even contain a television,and she’s working to build up a dowry for her impending marriage to the also-devout Avi Wiseman. (Appalled but intrigued by the unbuttoned atmosphere at Harvey Milk, she keeps the details of her new job from her father and fiancÇ.) But Chana’s tougher than she seems: her ability to maintain ethnic and spiritual integrity when dealing with kids intent on humiliating her through sexual innuendo attracts the interest of 15-year-old Flamboy†nt, allegedly half-Jewish and definitely a good student when she can spare time from taking drugs and turning tricks on the West Side Highway. She and Chana form a relationship that has moments of genuine tenderness, though Swados unsentimentally delineates its roots in Flamboy†nt’s lies and Chana’s patronizing good intentions. The big revelation scene (think The Crying Game) is not exactly a stunning surprise, nor is Avi’s apple-cart—upsetting visit to Harvey Milk, which prompts the predictable plot developments of the novel’s second half. Swados is a capable writer, good at capturing the gaudy, wounded voices of Flamboy†nt and her friends. The depiction of conflict between Chana’s religious beliefs and her fondness for Harvey Milk’s errant teens, however, is much less convincing; the author doesn’t convey any great understanding of or sympathy for Orthodox Judaism, and an amusingly sexy portrait of virginal lust between Chana and Avi can’t make up for the lack of a real moral alternative to the desperate nihilism of Flamboy†nt’s world. Nonetheless, smart observations and sharp character sketches make this worthwhile for serious fiction readers willing to tolerate some fundamental flaws. Problematic, but always pungent and at times penetrating. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19547-8

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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