A rambling novel about an unpleasant crew taking their inside jokes abroad.

CHUCK LIFE'S A TRIP

Seven friends set off on a raucous 12-week journey around Eurasia in Fellman’s debut novel.

Twenty-something Johan Felmanstein and his six friends form a tight-knit micro-community, complete with their own slang called “ROAST” (for “Result of a Small Town”), specific to Livermore, California (or “L-town”). “Gettin’ D,” for instance, is getting drunk; “lollin’ ” is smoking weed. Jonah’s partners in crime include Mason McKinney, ginger-bearded and often stoned; Tim Frazelli, who has a pet squirrel; Tim’s brother, Sebastian, who gets ill-considered tattoos; Bert Thompson, who adopts a fake Irish accent when he travels; Kip Zakynthos, who repeatedly gets his teeth whitened; and Chuck Sunday, who possesses the unique ability to lounge in any location. Since they were teens, they’ve loved to drink and get high together, and now that they’re older, they’ve added travel to the mix. (They call themselves “the Chucks,” after their most leisurely member, and refer to their traveling lifestyle as “Chuck life.”) They’re about to embark on a three-month journey across Europe and Asia: “for a group of hoodlums from a small town in the States, eighty-five days, fifteen countries, and two continents is a big deal,” narrates Johan. As they jet from place to place—getting drunk, chasing sex workers, and saying words like “gaht,” (“comrade”), “grooge” (“go”) and “garnk” (“not all that great”)—the boys get to know each other in ways they never have before. They’ll get back home with stronger bonds and a greater sense of the world—if they don’t get each other killed along the way. The ensuing trip features some memorable bits of incidental partying in romantic locales, as when the boys sample absinthe while listening to a Roma band in Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. However, the work fits firmly into genre of “fratire”; the guys are boorish, profane, homophobic, misogynistic, and motivated purely by hedonistic instincts. What’s more, their ROAST slang—reminiscent of Nadsat from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, but less interesting and entirely too pleased with itself—makes every conversation difficult to get through: “ ‘You have been kinda garnk,’ I said. [Bert said,] ‘I know. I just hella feel like my relationship with my other friends in L is gettin’ ’em. Fools respond mad to my emails.’ ” Fellman writes in a preface that the novel is based on a real trip that he and his friends took in 2006, and it shows, as it doesn’t have the sort of narrative arc that one expects from fiction. Instead, it feels much more like the sort of protracted bar story that one of the boys might tell back in Livermore—where, Jonah implies, they and their exploits are already legendary. The author attempts to make Jonah and his friends seem cool, but everything about the book, from the preface to the 20-page appendix about ROAST, feels showy and forced. It all feels like a throwback to an earlier era, in the least pleasant way.

A rambling novel about an unpleasant crew taking their inside jokes abroad.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9995162-9-4

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Russian Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

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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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