Charming and engrossing as a shop of curiosities but thin on meaningful change or conflict.

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THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP

In this quirky and episodic novel, a young woman yearns for love in a thrift store full of oddities and odd characters.

Kawakami (Strange Weather in Tokyo, 2014, etc.) writes of Hitomi, a naïve cashier at the Nakano Thrift Shop, who falls for her co-worker, Takeo. “People scare me,” confides Takeo, who wants companionship with Hitomi but nothing more. Though Hitomi and Takeo find friendship on the common ground of Mr. Nakano’s unusual shop, Takeo is taciturn and reluctant; he’s uninterested in sex. (Their boss, Mr. Nakano, on the other hand, openly discusses his sexual exploits, multiple marriages and trips to visit “the Bank”—his mistress—to the chagrin of his employees.) Frustrated by Takeo’s reticence and lack of attention, Hitomi visits Mr. Nakano’s sister, Masayo, for advice. Masayo, who is in her 50s, attempts to explain to Hitomi how nobody can be taken for granted. “When I haven’t heard from someone for a while, the first thing that occurs to me is that they might have just keeled over. This was what Masayo had murmured when Takeo hadn’t been answering my calls,” Hitomi recalls. Masayo’s words prove to be prescient. Several items hint at the greater significance of Nakano’s thrift store, including an old set of photographs and an antique celadon bowl that’s cursed by a breakup. Each has a brief role in the story, but much of Kawakami’s work centers on Hitomi’s obsession with Takeo’s lack of romantic response. Another theme—art and its relationship to reality—is touched on briefly yet doesn’t come to fruition. Romantic discussions and concerns are surface-level. Characters in the novel have no real motivation to change, so the book becomes a static exercise in studying them as objects.

Charming and engrossing as a shop of curiosities but thin on meaningful change or conflict.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60945-399-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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