A story with a well-developed protagonist who becomes more appealing as he overcomes obstacles.

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GYPSIES OF THE ROAD

THE GREASY SPOON

In L.G.’s debut drama, a divorced man finds his calling as a truck driver, as the open road provides an escape from a life that’s been defined by failure.

Forty-something Sam Yost is stunned when his wife and the mother of his children, Chrystal, announces that she’s leaving him—and that she’d planned to do so for years. Tired of construction work and wanting a change of scenery, Sam becomes inspired by his brother-in-law and roommate Doug’s occupation as a truck driver, and he aims to become one himself. He takes a course to earn a commercial driver’s license; back in high school, he used to perform poorly on tests, and now he’s anxious about his instructor’s scrutiny from the passenger’s seat. Nevertheless, Sam prevails, but he’s soon faced with tribulations on the road, such as witnessing the aftermath of a horrific car collision and dealing with his truck sliding on ice. He takes solace in frequenting truck-stop diners, as the food reminds him of his tenderhearted mom, who used to console him with home-cooked meals. A waitress catches his eye, but he’s anxious about asking her out. He eventually realizes that all he needs is confidence, which is something that he has when he’s behind the wheel. The author smartly details the basics of operating a truck in lengthy sections devoted to Sam’s driving class; he does so by contrasting trucks with smaller vehicles—noting, for instance, the difference between air brakes and the better-known hydraulic variety. This amplifies certain scenes, including an unnerving moment when Sam nearly loses control of his rig during a turn onto an interstate. However, the story is at its best when it highlights the protagonist’s internal strife. Sam is shown to be socially awkward and possibly dyslexic, and the author draws on his protagonist’s recurrent childhood memories to show how he slowly gains self-respect in later life. With all this in mind, this is a surprisingly upbeat tale, as Sam revels in tiny victories: “Finding good diners on the road was kind of like finding a long-lost friend.”

A story with a well-developed protagonist who becomes more appealing as he overcomes obstacles.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4575-5901-3

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2017

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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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