Bizarre but often compelling tales with discernible morals.




Everyday people endure discrimination, hypocrisy, and occasional bouts of psychosis in Bacopa’s (Eating Ice Cream in Armageddon, 2017) short story collection.

In “A Day with the Professor,” an apparent substitute teacher walks into a philosophy class at Yale University. In response to his seemingly deranged ramblings (“The Mush has a ghost, even though the ghost is dead”), the students employ their knowledge of philosophy to explain what the man is presumably teaching them. They’re not the only characters in this collection to face seemingly insane behavior from others. For example, British anthropologists visit a village in “The Drummers,” in which the residents’ endless drumming takes precedence over caring for sickly villagers—or mourning their inevitable deaths. In the darkly humorous “Letters from the Fourth Reich,” an author (also named Gabriel Bacopa) corresponds via email in Los Angeles with a woman, Labeeba, in Germany. He laments the escalating discrimination against people of color in the United States (stoked by its leader, Ronald Pump). However, his statements later become confusing, as he claims that he escaped from prison after being there a year, and Labeeba responds that he was only there for 45 minutes. In other tales, characters experience possibly psychotic episodes. John, a forensic pathologist in “Introspection,” believes that a body on a slab is identical to his, and he’s soon convinced the corpse is him. In the concluding story, “Fainting Girls,” John (apparently a different person) is so “devastatingly handsome” that women pass out in his mere presence. A doctor tries to decipher what’s triggering these reactions, considering the possibility of psycho-emotional conflicts or something paranormal. Bacopa’s straightforward prose, which includes bare-bones descriptions, perfectly suits these seven stories, as most events are transparently metaphorical. Readers may even interpret them as allegories. John of “Introspection,” for example, is quite understandably comfortable with the notion of death and only reflects upon it—and fears it—when it’s literally staring him in the face. One of the strongest stories here is “The Hypocrisy Foundation,” in which Dr. Harris, a sociologist, develops a scale to measure people’s “fakeness,” which he later upgrades to “hypocrisy.” He essentially determines that the richer a person is, the more hypocritical they are; however, a subsequent push for an egalitarian society may, in fact, be the work of wealthy hypocrites. Bacopa deftly examines class discrimination in various tales, most frequently portraying rich people taking advantage of those in poverty. In “StarInsured,” for instance, the titular insurance company rakes in profits from a prediction of a meteor wiping out civilization. An alien, who knows full well that there is no such meteor, arrives on Earth in human form to try to persuade people of the truth—but persistent fear keeps citizens paying the annual premium and making the company richer. Sometimes odd phrasing detracts from otherwise enjoyable stories, though, as in this passage from “The Hypocrisy Foundation”: “The musician signaled for the camera to take its gaze off him and mute for a moment.”

Bizarre but often compelling tales with discernible morals.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-79082-933-0

Page Count: 173

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2019

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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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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.


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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