An amusing and thoughtful political tale.

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THE PIKETTY PROBLEM

OR THE ROBOTS ARE COMING, THE ROBOTS ARE COMING

In this novel, a Donald Trump supporter dreams of building the restaurant of the future while others conspire to hold him accountable for the low wages he pays his workers.

George Dealy and his wife, Suzanne, have always had their differences politically. Republican George came from a working-class background and now owns several McDonald’s franchises. Suzanne, whose heritage includes wealthy parents, currently co-chairs the Democratic Committee in their town of Canaandale, New York. On a fateful night in the summer of 2016, George antagonizes his wife by insulting the French economist Thomas Piketty in front of her cultured European friends Hugo and Francesca. Later that evening, when Suzanne mentions a local news story about an impoverished woman who shoplifted, George suggests that if she empathizes so much with the plight of the poor, she should try it herself. Enraged, Suzanne sets out to do just that, hoping to humiliate her husband. Her plans change when she runs into Steve Harris, an underemployed marketer recently separated from his wife. The two bond over a mutual affection for Piketty. Harris sees their meeting as kismet while Suzanne senses another opportunity for revenge on her husband. Meanwhile, Harris’ daughter Cindy is hoping her dad and mother can reconcile and that her boyfriend, a Fight for $15 organizer, would be more supportive. The economic arguments the characters have should be familiar to readers. But their entertaining antics and Hallberg’s (Boon Juster or The Reason for Everything, 2014) snappy prose make for a very engaging read. The only problem with this absorbing story is the foreword, in which the author defines his book as a “social novel,” comparing it to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, and The Grapes of Wrath. This seems like a misclassification; instead of depicting the struggles of the working class, the tale skillfully shows readers how middle- and upper-class people talk about the rights of workers. (At one point, Hugo tells George: “There is a role for government in helping prevent the worst excesses of an economic system that is fundamentally based on maximizing personal gain. The minimum wage…is only there to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.”) While perhaps bordering on a social novel, Hallberg’s book is delightfully more satirical in tone. It is a relatable and humorous caper and a cogent breakdown and sendup of modern political discourse.

An amusing and thoughtful political tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9913770-4-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: The Reason for Everything, LLC

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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