The juxtaposition of fact and fiction makes an engaging game of each piece, while Silverstein’s eye for oblique detail and...

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NOTHING HAPPENED AND THEN IT DID

A frustrated journalist goes where nothing happens, theorizing that when something does, he’ll be there to get the scoop, in this Quixotic quest for the meaning of truth and untruth.

Bored with covering city-council and school-board meetings for the west Texas Big Bend Sentinel, he investigates local lore like the mysterious disappearance of Ambrose Bierce and the devil’s alleged residence in an area cave. With the possibility of a feature in National Geographic, he quits the paper to concentrate full time on his big story: the drought. When work on the story founders, he takes a temporary job as a driver for a New Yorker photographer assigned to take a single photograph that sums up the city where George W. Bush became an oilman. Chagrined to learn a New Yorker writer has scooped him on his drought story, he moves to New Orleans and writes poetry. An American Idol–style poetry contest lures him to Vegas, where he joins the ranks of hundreds of other bizarre and desperate wannabe poets. But semi-fictionalized Silverstein’s journalistic yen won’t die, and his credentials, however dubious, get him contracted to write about a treasure hunt based on a map purported to originate with Jean Lafitte, only to find himself literally blindfolded by the party’s paranoid leader and told he’s forbidden to publish anything about the trip. It’s frustrations like these, along with his own journalistic shortcomings (advance research is not his strength) and a talent for either reproducing or inventing hilarious dialogue, that make these stories a self-deprecating, rollicking picaresque following the loose design of a real-life career that has included covering a bloody Mexican road race and the opening of the first McDonald’s in Zacatecas. He ends with a Borgesian tale of a shorthand expert’s search for his mysteriously vanished family, another oddly comical story that sticks to the theme of the murky lines where writing, reality, fact and fiction intersect.

The juxtaposition of fact and fiction makes an engaging game of each piece, while Silverstein’s eye for oblique detail and an accessible style in the tradition of adventurer-journalists like Samuel Clemens, Susan Orlean and Hunter S. Thompson brings him journalistic success where he claims to fail.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-393-07646-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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