Bacharach’s book is admirable in its aspirations but fails to deliver on most of them.

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THE DOORPOSTS OF YOUR HOUSE AND ON YOUR GATES

A satirical modern take on the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac.

As unfair as it may seem to use a writer’s own self-deprecating words against him, it’s hard to forget, once you’ve read the acknowledgements page of Bacharach’s (The Bend of the World, 2014) novel, the author’s admission that his agent, after reading the first draft, told him “in the nicest possible way that it didn’t make any goddamn sense.” Perhaps the final version is an improvement over that initial assay, but unfortunately, the book still doesn’t make much sense. Bacharach’s biblically inspired tale weaves together two stories, toggling somewhat confusingly among the late 1980s (or early '90s), the present day, and various times in between. Abbie Mayer, a New York–based architect of some environmentally forward-thinking renown, who, either because he has impregnated his mistress (and been caught by his wife, Sarah) and has been inspired (while attending synagogue) by a religious vision of a deer on a hilltop or simply because he needs to make a fast buck (no pun intended), moves to Pittsburgh and begins to consult for his lesbian sister’s real estate business. Sometime closer to the present day, a young woman named Isabel makes her own move from New York to Pittsburgh to work at a nonprofit called the Future Cities Institute, through which she meets Abbie and Sarah’s son, Isaac, and eventually becomes intertwined with the family, although we are left to guess at a few essential details. One of the book’s key faults is that the author takes great pains to explain some plot points (the details of a soured deal among Abbie, his sister, and their business partners are spelled out in a nearly 40-page-long arbitration-hearing transcript yet nevertheless remain difficult to grasp) and leaves others unexplained altogether (the progress of Isabel’s relationship with her love interest is especially sketchy). What's more, characters and motives often don't ring true, and Bacharach often seems to sacrifice conciseness and clarity for the sake of cleverness. To be fair, the book contains a few interesting story ingredients, but they seem ill-measured and lazily mixed and, like a haphazardly made cake, never seem to quite set.

Bacharach’s book is admirable in its aspirations but fails to deliver on most of them.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63149-174-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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