A well-crafted and welcome short-fiction debut.

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CHINA GIRL

AND OTHER STORIES

Lin follows the lives of dreamers and agitators in this debut collection of stories.

In “Ghost Wife,” a Chinese-American man in Beijing begins a relationship with a woman whom he met after her scalp was ripped off by a wild dog. A Communist Party official is tasked with babysitting a journalist, making sure that the curious writer doesn’t see anything that he could use to criticize the government in “National Holiday.” A minor altercation between two people on a San Francisco subway in “Charge” becomes a focal point for all the frustration that either person has experienced in their lives up to that point. In each of these nine stories, Lin follows Chinese people as they struggle with their political, cultural, and personal baggage, and he provides insights into the mysteries of human interaction. In the title story, for example, a Chinese model/exotic dancer moves numbly between the arenas of her existence—amorous, familial, social—while also longing for a new life that she can’t bring herself to live. She sets the tone for the rest of Lin’s characters, who often wish to escape from situations they didn’t choose for themselves—and from some they did. “One could almost believe them to be comatose if not for their moving bodies, their jerky attempts at spontaneity,” observes the model about her fellow dancers. “A nation of stone-faced ballroom dancers, she concludes sadly—sure you can learn the foxtrot and the waltz like you memorize poems, but what does that get you?” It isn’t all cynicism, though, as the author also provides a world large enough for his characters to dream in. As the woman who briefly loses her scalp says, “You know China is so big that every story you hear must be true, somewhere? Lin writes with a natural lyricism and a wondrous ability to render the spontaneity of human thought, as in “Litany, Eulogy”: “My sister with the bouncy head, and the arm I slammed in a car door once, because I was lazy enough to do it. Her face went all red as a result, and she never seemed more alive.” He’s willing to experiment with form, as well; the tale “Floating World” is subtitled “A Film Treatment,” and its structure is just that—describing its characters’ actions from a distance in clipped, malleable language. “Blood-Stained Heroes” offer a series of vignettes that follow several people in the midst of high-pressure situations—a child fleeing his father’s punishment, combatants in a gangland gun battle, a calligraphist auditioning to join the emperor’s court. The story leaps from one player to another in a manner that always keeps the reader unsteady. Overall, these tales all feel very much of a piece, with shared themes of isolation, identity crises, and interconnectedness along with some recurring character types. Along the way, Lin manages to crystallize a set of concerns of a specific, unique group of people while also managing to make them feel universal and timeless.

A well-crafted and welcome short-fiction debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-58790-403-5

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Regent Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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