A warming, delightful novel unabashed in its depiction of life’s eccentricities.

CRAWLING BACK TO START

In Starypan’s debut novel, a random act of compassion leads to an eventful, winding journey of self-realization and transcendence.

The novel’s protagonist, nicknamed “Biter,” finds himself out of a job as a zoo employee when he decides to release a recently acquired wolverine back into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. This radical decision costs him his livelihood, but it also affords him a chance to rethink his life’s plan. He tracks down his friend, JT, and an acquaintance, Ryan, and soon sets out on a trip through Washington state’s rugged Pasayten Wilderness. During the journey, he briefly becomes disconnected from the group, prompting him to think about an earlier time when he almost froze to death on another mountain. After he safely returns home, he patches together a living from a handful of odd, but oddly rewarding, jobs. As a restaurant dishwasher, he meets Mickey, a down-and-out war veteran who suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder due to witnessing the gruesome combat death of his friend. Biter also gets work as a research assistant for a professor studying clams. Happily, though, he ends up as a bartender at the Red Dragon, a local hangout where JT also works, where he can cultivate a new beginning. But just when things are settling down, tragedy occurs, and Biter must decide whether he can sustain his new life. This gently written yet perky novel grew out of an attempt by Starypan to write a memoir; he even shares his fictional protagonist’s nickname. The result is simultaneously moving and unsentimental. It manages to link together what initially seem to be nothing more than a series of discrete, disjointed episodes in one man’s haphazard life. Throughout, the author weaves Biter’s memories of his past into his present-day narrative, rendering the main story all the richer. In doing so, he creates a thoughtful, quirky and even comic chronicle that demonstrates how even apparent chaos can resolve into a coherent story.

A warming, delightful novel unabashed in its depiction of life’s eccentricities.

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495429255

Page Count: 214

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2014

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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