Problematic stories that suffer from a lack of structure.

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EATING ICE CREAM IN ARMAGEDDON

In Bacopa’s debut collection, a loner with bipolar disorder faces the end of the world with a teenage girl.

Twenty-something writer Michael Mahrouq, who was born to an Israeli Jewish father and Arab Muslim mother, often struggles to fit in. He’s highly antisocial, due to his schizoid personality disorder. As a result, the bulk of his personal interactions are with the workers at the Orange County, California, ice cream shop he frequents—particularly 16-year-old Halima. The narration asserts that his infatuation with the girl isn’t “sexual, but…more a matter of innocent fondness for her,” it’s only her whom he wants to save when World War III breaks out. As they run from nuclear fallout and travel the ocean, a desert, and the Amazon jungles, Michael encounters inexplicably familiar people from his past, including women who broke his heart during his school years, bullies, and a writing group that insulted his prose. In the background of all this, the world grinds on, with its end apparently connected to President Donald Trump assaulting Vladimir Putin’s cousin, the travels of a truck-driving sexual predator, and the actions of a one-eyed Jewish man named Shlomo. Bacopa’s book offers a set of connected, fast-paced stories, each sharing a consistent stream-of-consciousness style that keeps them from seeming too episodic. However, the dialogue is repetitive and overly expositional, and most characters are limited to one or two defining features. Their ties to Michael, and their unlikely presence so far from Orange County, give the story a sense of fabulism as they randomly appear in and disappear from the story—sometimes quite literally. The book often name-checks modern political and pop-culture elements, such as the aforementioned Trump and Putin, Dr. Phil McGraw, and Ancestry.com. However, it also traffics in vicious stereotypes with such characters as a lecherous gay man and Russian rapists; if they’re meant to be satirical, they lack the knowing wink that’s necessary to avoid the appearance of being exploitative. Mental illness also is a recurring theme, but the manic style of the narration obscures any message it might be trying to get across on the topic.

Problematic stories that suffer from a lack of structure.

Pub Date: May 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5214-0785-1

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 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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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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