An implausible mix of Planet Krypton heroics with a condemnation of barbarous arch-conservative misrule works well enough...



Secret societies and superheroes with ties to an ancient, alien power battle a fanatical right-wing Christian dictatorship in 21st-century America. 

In 2033, Clay Bradley is an ex-cartoonist languishing in a torture cell in a Kansas prison (named for Jerry Falwell). A fascist dictatorship assumed power after a coup by militant Gospel-pounders and right-wingers replaced the U.S. government with a rogue Christian police state. Bradley is visited, granted superior powers and a “Star Dagger,” and liberated by swashbuckling Frederick Dixon, an authentic Tuskegee Airman who underwent a similar transformation during his own jail ordeal in the Jim Crow 1950s. In a manner not unlike DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps, an ancient alien entity called Cronus, directing human progress from the moon, periodically assigns exceptional and persecuted males to be “Bringers” (as in bringers of justice)—Knights of Cronus do-gooders with enhanced life spans and perceptions and physical/mental prowess that seem to defy physics. Bringers work in concert (and sometimes in love) with “Nurses,” a female secret society (or two) also dating back to antiquity. Over centuries, their deeds were distorted by church bigotry and superstition. Debut author Hughes’ sci-fi/fantasy dystopia novel—combining comics-style avengers with a nightmarish future fundamentalist America—shouldn’t hang together as well as it does. Initially, the author seems to be aiming for Rabelaisian satire or at least the tongue-in-cheek flavor of Robert Anton Wilson or Kurt Vonnegut (recipient of a shoutout). But the happenings get grimly transfixing as the author introduces the Bringers’ new foe, the fanatic “Dominionist” Jesus-centric ruling political junta. Their sins include female genital mutilation and sundry oppression of women; public stonings of abortionists and ex–porn stars; destruction of the Mount Rushmore monument as idolatry; widespread cigarette smoking (big tobacco being backers of the theocracy); a revived Confederacy, with Jehovah-approved slavery on the table; incompetent handling of the economy; and so on. (Readers might ponder whether Islam also gets routinely pilloried in similar literary terms. All we hear of American Muslims here is that Dominionists banished them to “their cold Michigan ghettos.”)  Hughes' work makes S. Andrew Offut’s virulently anti-clerical, very similar sci-fi novel Evil Is Live Spelled Backwards (1970) read like the Chronicles of Narnia, and one wonders whether this novel would have worked better minus a gee-whiz paranormal angle (as Offut did it). But the way-out stuff does allow an extremely imaginative tangent with the colorful narrative within the narrative of “the Hun,” a rebellious Knight of Cronus from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hughes has a flair not only for history, but also bigger-than-life storytelling and characterizations, though expository dialogue tends to get top-heavy. Additional matters, such as invisible “demons” that feed on human suffering and a scantly described opposition cult of evil mystics, are not dwelt upon and are presumably fodder for sequels. The author warns against real-life religious conservatives in government in a brief afterword.

An implausible mix of Planet Krypton heroics with a condemnation of barbarous arch-conservative misrule works well enough that one might call it a small miracle.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-981575-14-5

Page Count: 403

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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