THE BOOK OF DEAD AUTHORS

Cheer for every author who didn’t make the Modern Library’s Top 100, or even a single publisher’s acceptance pile: somebody has declared open season on Britain’s most undeservedly successful novelists. Amazonia Skreen doesn’t see why her own heartfelt fictional outpourings should have been rejected by the same publishers who trumpeted the rubbish of hacks like Adam Appleton, that delicate aesthete who also ghostwrote pornography on the side, or of Mick Roper, the pop singer who probably couldn’t even read the best-selling books issued under his name. Aided by her brawny, monosyllabic sidekick Tup Maul (whose hopeful response to each successful homicide is “Love now?”), she stages elaborately moralizing death scenes for Adam, Mick, and a bevy of other literary types: the self-merchandising success-story whose books are sold at his own coffeeshops; the half-anonymous co-dependent pair Amazonia intends to bring even closer in death; the crypto-fascist ranter of the roman-Ö-clef—all of them so excruciatingly familiar that it’s a pleasure to see the whole lot get their sanguinary comeuppance, especially at the hands (etc.) of the exotic and uninhibited Amazonia. The conceit is so appealing (the Modern Library meets House of Wax, with Sharon Stone in the Vincent Price role), and newcomer Rees is so obviously having a good time, that it seems both stuffy and reckless to complain that the plot device he’s chosen to add momentum and suspense to his series of Dantesque set-pieces(bad-hat Jack Jackson takes over the life of his twin brother, successful author David Jackson, when David succumbs to a miscalculated bout of erotic autoasphyxia, thereby unwittingly placing himself in all the peril David escaped by his timely demise) is so much less interesting than Amazonia’s gleefully lethal swipes at the literary establishment that you can hardly wait for the avenger to add this poseur’s scalp to her collection. An upscale black-comic equivalent of beach reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-7472-5721-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Headline

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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