A knotty, lyrical, but sometimes overdone tale about a gay vet’s recovery.



A gay Vietnam veteran’s buried trauma provokes much turmoil in this novel.

It’s 1986, and Robb Jorgenson, a 40-year-old Seattle biology professor, has a terrible secret. It’s not his gay sexuality: He is semi-out and has a relationship with Bart, a high school drama teacher. His problem is his experience in the Vietnam War, the memory of which is causing nightmares and insomnia, an Ativan habit, and a persistent sense that he “really didn’t feel he existed at all.” Robb’s anguish leads readers to expect a war crime in his past, but that’s not quite the case: While serving as a military clerk in Saigon, he was a passenger in a jeep that had a hit-and-run collision with a female bicyclist. It’s not clear whether the woman was injured or which vehicle was at fault, but he feels guilt-stricken for not reporting the driver, Mason, for leaving the scene. Compounding his unease is Mason’s hotness—“that tan, that back, those pectorals glimpsed in the windshield, bright with sun”—which leads to a sexual encounter that gets curtailed when he upbraids the man for the accident. My Lai it’s not, but the incident gives Robb panic attacks that get him discharged. Years later, it provokes hallucinations of flaming bicycle wheels, spiraling addiction, paranoia, suicide plans, and finally rehab. Robb’s breakdown draws in loved ones dealing with their own issues. His sister, Olivia, also in recovery, tries to stabilize him while her marriage to a psychiatrist frays. Bart is coming out to his own family and confronting his mother’s projection of her homophobia onto his father. Alley (The Dahlia Field, 2017, etc.) is a skillful writer who draws realistic characters and crafts well-turned comic vignettes—a grandmotherly nurse gives Bart an overly explicit safe sex tutorial—along with moving scenes of the gathering AIDS epidemic. There’s a psychological frankness to the novel, with many pointed discussions as characters internalize the lesson that they must take responsibility for their own lives. Counterpoised to that realism is a giddy sexual lyricism. Robb swoons over studs, from the “tanned runner…his blonde hair radiant as a sunflower” to “that god…in the black lycra tights, his butt almost busting.” Odes to the healing power of man-on-man touching blossom throughout. A massage that Robb receives from a handsome physical therapist sparks a Proustian sensual epiphany, as he finds “himself entering into Tyler’s very bone and sinew, as though their bodies were fusing, the anguish seeming to be like a flower, opening like a bud…with his brain instantly shooting itself back into the backyard of a childhood friend; the friend and his sister were wading with him in a little pond, below a rockery of heather and carnations.” Unfortunately, Robb is not a captivating focus for the book’s lubricious energy. He’s a morose, self-absorbed, ruminative man whose depression and PTSD feel unearned and whose recovery, complete with a brief turn away from gay sexuality that is dropped before it gets interesting, seems perfunctory. Readers may wish that Bart would dump him and take up with one of the more intriguing characters in this hit-and-miss story.

A knotty, lyrical, but sometimes overdone tale about a gay vet’s recovery.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-937627-35-5

Page Count: 297

Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet