Somewhat appealing, but stymied by an underdeveloped plot and characters.

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ON THEIR DIME

A salesman in the 1950s goes on the hunt for sales and adventure in Mack’s (On My Dime, 2017) novella.

When Charlie Taylor was a young boy, he was misdiagnosed with “manic depression,” or bipolar disorder, but he was never “down in the dumps”—he was solely manic, “bouncing around like a pinball.” During his formative years, he poured this energy into misbehavior, such as letting the air out of the local sheriff’s tires. He finally found himself “a real job” at the age of 19, working as a door-to-door salesman selling the Globe Reader magazine, in and around Springfield, Missouri. His endeavors are rewarded when he’s asked to join a crew of traveling salesman who are driving around the Midwest “on the Globe Reader’s dime.” He joins Bill, his boss and driver, and three others—Clifford, Jerry, and Gino—who hope to make lots of sales and have new experiences along the way. As Charlie works his sales pitches, he’s chased by the angry husband of a female customer at one point, but little else of great note occurs. The novella is narrated by Harvey Trotter, a friend of Charlie’s in later life, and Mack shows how Harvey delights in the spectacle of the salesman’s mania-fueled actions: “Charlie had his suitcase in hand and was running down the street. Running to where, nobody knew.” The story seems intended as a tender tribute to a colorful character, but there’s something uncomfortable about drawing entertainment from a life dictated by mental illness, regardless of how happy Harvey perceives Charlie to be. The narrative tone is warm and personable, though, which gives the novella an undeniable charm: “Out in the back alley sat their ride, a 1952 Ford Woody. It was quite the car of its time. I’ll say this: If you can find one today that’s been restored, you’d be sitting on a gold mine.” That said, the tale is all too brief at just over 50 pages, and it doesn’t allow for the full flowering of Charlie as a character or provide an in-depth exploration of his illness.

Somewhat appealing, but stymied by an underdeveloped plot and characters.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984513-11-3

Page Count: 62

Publisher: XlibrisUS

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2019

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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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