An original, painful tale of youthful isolation.

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ONE-TWO

Conjoined twins in the Soviet Union face loneliness and alienation in Eliseev’s debut novel.

Faith and Hope were born anatomically attached at the hip—a sight so shocking that the midwife who delivered them fainted. Their mother was so horrified that she was persuaded by a nurse to sign their death certificate and give them away to scientists; the father—away on business—was informed of their passing by telegram. First, they were studied as scientific anomalies, but eventually they attended a special boarding school. Later, they moved to a foster home for disabled children, where they suffered grim indignities and grotesque mistreatment. When one sick child at the home dies of illness as a result of utter neglect, the attendants treat the rest of the kids like they’re prisoners doing penance. The pair become intoxicated with the possibility of a surgical separation, and they eventually escape in the hope of finding a doctor willing to perform the procedure—one that would likely kill one of them. On their own, they soon suffer extraordinary cruelty; at one point, a truck driver picks them up as hitchhikers and brutally rapes them. Homeless, penniless, and ostracized from society, they’re reduced to panhandling as they set out to find the mother they never knew. Hope becomes suicidal as the two yearn to lead a normal life, free of deprivation. Author Eliseev unflinchingly limns the psychological nuances of the twins’ predicament, showing that despite their intimate connection, each longs to be free: “I often wondered what it would be like—having your own body, going where you wanted, doing what you liked doing,” Faith thinks. “How does it feel not being the hostage of somebody else, even if it is your closest and dearest relative?” Eliseev’s prose is straightforward and appropriately childlike, and Faith’s wisdom and anguish are heart-rending. As she narrates the story in the first person, her emotional range swings from endearingly optimistic to despairing. The backdrop of the tale—set in the twilight years of the USSR—vividly depicts the social dysfunction of a so-called “normal” society of “one-headed” people.

An original, painful tale of youthful isolation.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-911414-23-0

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Glagoslav Publications

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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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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