An often compelling novel set in the colorful, dangerous world of oil field diving.




Butcher’s debut novel tells the story of a commercial diver struggling with difficult co-workers.

You would think a man by the name of Jonah would never go to sea. Even if he had no superstition regarding his name, surely others around him would. Nevertheless, Jonah becomes an apprentice oil field diver—or “Tender,” as they’re known—doing maintenance work on the labyrinth of pipelines that crisscross the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. Jonah gains a reputation for toughness and survival—valued qualities in his line of work—and manages to rise above his unfortunate name. Then one of the divers on his team—a man named Seed, who was recently released from the state penitentiary—takes his dispute with a crane operator too far; when the crew is sent to recover the body of a dead rigger, Seed hangs the corpse from the crane. This trespass against decency destroys the reputation of Jonah’s crew and makes them vulnerable to violent reprisals from other Louisiana riggers. “Do you know how easy it is ta kill a man offshore and make it look like an accident?” threatens one rigger who breaks into Jonah’s apartment. “I want you ta think a me when the crane operator crushes you under a load.” Jonah finds himself having to take more and more difficult jobs, surrounded by progressively more unfriendly crewmates. Meanwhile, his refusal to defend Seed’s actions makes the ex-con a particularly pernicious enemy. On top of it all, Jonah must face other timeless dangers of the sea: cold water, rough weather, and myriad creatures—including, of course, a whale. Butcher’s measured prose deftly captures the grit and violence of Jonah’s world, both on deck and beneath the waves: “The ocean’s molten color poured into his helmet. It shone through his lens onto his face. It flooded into his eyes, filled his face and mind with concentrated blue until that’s all there was to know.” The author also makes repeated references to Jonah’s other literary antecedent, the similarly biblically named Ishmael, although this book is far more approachable than Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, both in its narrative style and in its literary ambition. Jonah’s tale is essentially an adventure story, and the rigger vendettas, murderers, and snake-handlers that populate the pages of this book are more the stuff of pulp fiction than they are of reality. Even so, the world of offshore oil rigs is indeed a rugged one, and Butcher’s handling of it here will attract readers who might not have had any interest in the milieu before. There are a few moments when the narrative drifts lazily into cliché—“I don’t think it’s possible to really know what’s in a man’s heart,” muses an old hand named Porter in the novel’s frame narrative, “any more than it’s possible to know what’s hidden in the ocean”—but the story is entertaining enough for readers to forgive the author for such lapses.

An often compelling novel set in the colorful, dangerous world of oil field diving.

Pub Date: March 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947942-18-9

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Liberty Island Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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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.


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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