A superb collection full of color and subtle explorations of character.



Africans and Westerners wrestle with sickness, culture clash, and the turmoil of decolonization in these richly imagined stories.

Barnes (Jane Among Friends, 2017, etc.), who worked for the Peace Corps in Africa, sets his tales in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and other newly independent West African countries in the early 1960s as expatriates, villagers, bureaucrats, and beggars cope with the ferment of change. In “Getting to Bo,” an American builder has to choose between his efforts to keep his construction project on schedule and the pressing needs of a sick diamond miner. “The Legend of Death’s Staircase” follows an affluent expat couple, whose tidy marriage is shadowed by a tropical disease, as they’re drawn to the sinister remains of a slave market. Other tales feature a newly minted Nigerian official who takes over a government credit union from a British administrator, setting off a nerve-wracking turf battle among bureaucrats and politicians; a beggar afflicted with leprosy who struggles to get food in a world where every man’s hand is turned against him; and a villager that takes advantage of a missionary’s generosity by reselling malaria pills on the black market, leading to a crisis of betrayal and redemption. And in the title story, a beautiful young woman gets a mysterious illness, causing the Westerners around her—a priest, a doctor, a Canadian wanderer—to evaluate their relationships with her and their attitudes toward African culture. Barnes’ atmospheric yarns feel like a Graham Greene novel with aid workers instead of spies. He writes evocative descriptions of landscapes and village scenes peopled with a Shakespearean cast, from chiefs drenched in carefully calculated dignity to half-dead panhandlers to African and Western strivers tangled in bonds of mutual need and hostility, all illuminated by Barnes’ ability to fill a single sentence with a world of social and psychological nuance. (“Mrs. Flint wept harder; not the way his woman would weep, but as if she would rather burst than emit any sound,” an African man observes of a distraught white woman.) The result is a fine panorama of a complex, exotic yet startlingly familiar place.

A superb collection full of color and subtle explorations of character.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72192-656-5

Page Count: 194

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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