An absorbing novel of destructive love, false friends, and the cruelty of fate.

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AN ADJUNCT DOWN

An adjunct professor falls prey to addiction.

The prolific Havel (Charlie Zero’s Last-Ditch Attempt, 2016, etc.) changes key in his latest novel, a chamber piece about friendship and drugs. Archie, the narrator, is a study in low self-esteem. He second-guesses himself, the people around him, and those friends who share his skin color (Archie is black) and who want to aspire to something other than second-class status. “I was making all types of mistakes at the bank,” Archie tells readers just after they meet him, “so I just resigned, because I knew I was incompetent.” Most mornings, on the way to his new job as a postal clerk, he drives his best friend, Reginald Meeks, to Reginald’s own job as an adjunct professor at a local school. Reginald is a dreamer and an intellectual but he’s also “forever a part of the temporary workers’ economy,” the fate of so many adjuncts in America. Things seem to be looking up for Reginald when he falls for Wonder Robins, a white student with an open mind. Archie is suspicious of his friend’s race-mixing, making for an uncomfortable conversation and a difficult read. But Archie changes his opinion entirely once he sees Reginald falling for Bianca instead, a party girl from the neighborhood who drugs Reginald (first with Ecstasy, then with cocaine) and violently seduces him. As Reginald falls into a downhill spiral, Archie—ostensibly a mere narrator—emerges as the tale’s most complex character, in some ways more engaging than Reginald. Archie laments “unschooled blacks with amazing potential wasted on the refuse of popular music and culture” while at the same time rolling his eyes at his friend’s aspirations: “By the time it takes to give a solid course in Black History, we’ll all be brainwashed and won’t know what our history is anyway.” The plot moves swiftly and the pages turn, but what keeps the reader most engaged is Archie in his endless contradictions: is he a supportive friend or a selfish saboteur? Despite a tendency to fall back on the same plot devices (various characters secretly drug one another a bit too often here), this story remains intriguing for the most part.

An absorbing novel of destructive love, false friends, and the cruelty of fate. 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Lulu

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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