A sweeping melodrama of the frontier.

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The Purest Gold

A widowed minister, fleeing the scandal of a forbidden affair, relocates from Massachusetts to Colorado with his teenage daughters in this historical novel set in the 1860s.

In their elegant Boston home, 15-year-old identical twins Lily and Rose Wright eavesdrop on an astounding conversation and learn that their widowed father, the Rev. Daniel Wright, has impregnated Rachel Decker, a congregation member who’s married to a physically abusive man. To keep the matter contained, church elders send Daniel to set up a new church in the frontier town of Gold Creek, Colorado. Surprisingly, Lily and Rose, whom Daniel can’t even tell apart, want to go with him rather than stay with their affluent maternal grandmother. The three Wrights thus set off on a several-week-long pioneering journey, during which they forge new friendships and encounter buffalo and Native Americans. The sisters often alarm their uptight father by riding astride horses or joyfully dancing, but at one point, they also save his life. After the Wrights arrive in Gold Creek, they find themselves particularly drawn to the local Fairdale family, even though the latter’s patriarch espouses transcendental instead of traditional religious views. By novel’s end, Daniel reunites with Rachel (who fled to a relative’s house after her husband was admitted to a hospital for insanity) and his son and learns to embrace a wider perspective; Lily and Rose, meanwhile, adjust their close personal bond as they both find adult loves. Starsong (Never Again, 2015, etc.) delivers an intense historical novel that effectively conveys the Wrights’ full flowering, along with some Freudian undertones. Daniel, in particular, is a striking study of repressed desire; Starsong even includes a scene in which he shamefully ogles his naked daughters. Although the pathos of Daniel’s story, which includes moments of wailing and direct communication with God, occasionally threatens to engulf the novel, the author also manages to skillfully relate a number of other story arcs in addition to his, including the sisters’ individual awakenings and a sweet subplot involving a gentle carpenter and a young prostitute.

A sweeping melodrama of the frontier.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9975450-4-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Dancing Aspen Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

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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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