Another strong story collection that displays the author’s trademark thoughtfulness, humanity, and wit.

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THE MAGIC LAUNDRY

STORIES

Ordinary people practice the magic of deception in Appel’s (Einstein’s Beach House, 2014) short story collection, which won the 2014 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award for fiction.

These eight stories, all previously published in literary journals, deal insightfully with the vanity of human wishes. At the end of this, his 10th book since 2013, Appel—an attorney, physician, bioethicist, essayist, and fiction writer—describes himself as “strikingly ordinary.” That seemingly contradictory and perhaps deceptive statement captures what’s so engrossing about his characters: they’re ordinary people who are strikingly, but sometimes deceptively, themselves. Often, they use deceit to navigate grief, loss, or desire. In “The House Call,” for example, Miriam’s young son has died. She once had an acting job in which she portrayed a patient for medical students. While visiting her son’s grave, she runs into one of those students, Jeannie, who remembers her gratefully. When Jeannie seems disappointed that Miriam didn’t pursue acting as a career, Miriam pretends to have cancer—only later to discover that Jeannie never became a doctor. This story’s conclusion demonstrates the rich interplay between fact and fiction and the longing for connection that inhabits these tales, even when that connection is based on pretense: “For a brief moment, I let myself believe that if she’d been a real doctor, and I’d actually had cancer, she’d have been able to heal me.” Appel reveals character well, through narrative voice, dialogue, and often through profession, as in “The Ataturk of the Outer Boroughs,” in which a Turkish-American locksmith fights eminent domain by chaining and locking people “to awnings, to drainpipes, to bicycle stands.” Though the characters are often frustrated in their desires for love, success, security, or revenge, they generally come to a rueful sort of peace—often after a tough decision and often in the midst of absurdity. The author handles tone beautifully, mustering a seriocomic deadpan in “Natural Selection,” as a father decides how to handle a baboon that his daughter rescued from a research lab, or in the titular tale, in which a laundromat gains a reputation for performing miracles (“Mrs. Garcia announced that Mae West—a.k.a. washer number sixteen—had cured her chronic incontinence”).

Another strong story collection that displays the author’s trademark thoughtfulness, humanity, and wit.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Snake Nation Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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