An impressive blend of history and fiction in need of additional editing.

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A CIVIL WAR STORY

Snell’s Civil War novel documents the savage treatment of prisoners of war. 

George Corbett joins the 8th Virginia Cavalry in 1861 and reluctantly permits his 15-year-old son, Harley, to follow suit. In 1863, the two are separated in the fog of battle, and Harley is shot in the arm and taken prisoner by Union soldiers. He’s transported to Point Lookout, Maryland, and incarcerated in a prisoners-of-war camp, the conditions of which are ghastly. Prisoners routinely face physical abuse, starvation, and squalid filth. George, tortured by guilt over his son’s fate, becomes hopeful when he learns that Gen. Lee has hatched a covert plan to rescue the 20,000 POWs, a perilously risky venture made all the more dangerous when the Union soldiers discover it and prepare for the attack. The tide of war has turned against the South, and the Confederacy is in desperate need of soldiers. Harley is imprisoned with his Uncle Steve—nicknamed “Devil Steve” for his penchant for brutal violence. Steve undergoes macabre abuse by a former slave, Big Jake Brown, who became a Union soldier and guard at the camp. Jake was once ferociously beaten by Steve before he killed his owners and escaped, and he intends to exact retribution. Debut author Snell’s meticulous research is nothing short of remarkable. He studied official camp inspection reports, period memoirs, and even visited the historical sites in question in order to paint an authentic portrait of the prison’s barbarity. With the exception of Steve’s monstrously deformed character, the author paints a morally nuanced picture of both sides. George’s inner conflict is a good example of this authorial sensitivity. An educated Southerner, he can’t help but find slavery repugnant, but he still practices slavery and chooses to fight for the Confederacy. The novel reads like an uncorrected draft: the dialogue is written in historically appropriate dialect while the narration largely isn’t, though it lapses inexplicably into it occasionally. Also, while the table of contents provides pagination, the pages themselves are left unnumbered. 

An impressive blend of history and fiction in need of additional editing.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-973267-23-2

Page Count: 431

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2018

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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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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