An engaging, insightful satire on the place of revelation in the modern world.

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PSYCHEDELIC PROPHET

THE MESSENGER

The story of an unlikely modern-day messiah.

Segal’s fiction debut begins unassumingly enough: In 2004, on a snowy patch of road on the way to Philadelphia, auto mechanic Bob Griffin and his girlfriend, Lisa, are surprised to find themselves caught up in a celestial vision. A grizzled middle-aged man (like “Anthony Hopkins on a bender”) appears and informs them that his earthly name is Mathew Wells, the Messenger, and that they have been chosen to receive his instructions. Bob and Lisa, as well as their extended circle of friends and family, are understandably nonplussed, and as Segal rather insightfully shows, their skepticism is only slightly allayedby miracles the Messenger performs once he’s a guest in the modest Griffin home. He breaks the ice by showing them all the ghost of Bob’s dead wife, he miraculously removes an old piece of Vietnam shrapnel from Bob’s father, he levitates a basketball—yet from the beginning, Mathew is clear that these parlor tricks are only to establish his bona fides; his true goals are much grander. “My purpose is nothing short of saving the planet,” he tells his small group of first contacts. And this will be accomplished by the church they’ll establish, called the Sphere, which will teach the ways of “Spin & Modulation”—a means to connect with the flow of the universe—to the people of the world. To help spread this doctrine, Mathew asks for trust, “not your immortal soul.” They anticipate conflicts with the world’s religions, all of which Segal portrays with thorough cynicism—“The Catholic Church won’t be thrilled…not because of lost souls, but because of lost revenues”—and the bulk of the novel is concerned with the practical steps of setting up a messianic ministry in the 21st century. (One of the disciples is in charge of creating the website.) And although the divine messenger is rather overimpressed by the music of the Grateful Dead—“Matt remained in awe at the clarity attained in a shifting modulation sequence”—Segal’s crisp, lively writing style carries the story effortlessly to its bittersweet end.

An engaging, insightful satire on the place of revelation in the modern world.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2014

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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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