GASP!

An uninspired and often plodding first novel that attempts to register a warning about the horrors of smoking but ultimately bogs down in a tangled, snoozy plot. Martin Muntor, former journalist and hardcore smoker, has terminal lung cancer and doesn't plan to go quietly: He intends to bring down the whole tobacco industry with him. His idea of revenge against ToBacCo, Inc., the world's largest death-stick manufacturer, includes spiking several hundred packs of smokes with cyanide and FedEx-ing the tainted product to unsuspecting customers. Hundreds of ghastly deaths and an FBI manhunt later, an understandably alarmed ToBacCo CEO lurches into action, trying to spin a dire situation as the company's stock plummets in the face of a national cigarette recall. Enter Tom Rhoads, an alcoholic ex- security hack for ToBacCo. Cooperating with the feds (depicted here as typically clueless), Rhoads struggles against his own demons— and a nefarious ToBacCo hired gun who's attempting to frame him for the murder of an industry researcher—and clings to Muntor's slippery tail. The psycho's killing spree continues, however, lending a Unabomber-jag to an already ripped-from-the-headlines storyline. Building toward a showdown with ToBacCo's CEO, Rhoads enlists the aid of a matronly seventysomething shrink, who ends up guiding the hapless and somewhat dense investigator toward the light. Rhoads also hooks up with a disgruntled ToBacCo employee—a source of top-secret information—and tries to stay one step ahead of a wicked secretary (in Freudberg's world, women are either vamps or victims). Besides Muntor, Rhoads has to contend with the unexpected discovery of a scheme to increase tobacco's addictive nicotine content. Failing both as a contemporary morality tale and as a game of cat-and-mouse, a debut that succeeds only in painting a desperate and convincing picture of disease-peddlers and sufferers who have drifted off the deep end. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 1996

ISBN: 1-56980-071-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Barricade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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