Prelude to the disaster feels a bit like woolgathering, but Dalessandro (Bohemian Heart, 1993, etc.) pays off with an...

1906

Interwoven storylines—civic corruption, sex, high-profile murder, Enrico Caruso—lead up to, then involve the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

Frustrated young newspaper reporter Annalisa Passarelli, who narrates, wants to cover politics but is consigned to cultural events like the upcoming performances of world-renowned tenor Enrico Caruso and rising dramatic actor John Barrymore. Nonetheless, Annalisa tracks the escalating war between the crimelords working the Barbary Coast (Shanghai Kelly, The Whale, and Scarface being three of the most notorious) and the overworked police force headed by righteous Lieutenant Byron Fallon. Byron’s elder son Christian has followed in his father’s footsteps, but younger son Hunter is attending Stanford. When a policeman is murdered while investigating a waterfront shanghaiing operation, Byron personally checks it out—and meets the same fate. Hunter and Christian, helped by Annalisa, follow a trail of graft and depravity that leads all the way up to the office of city attorney Adam Rolf, a highly respected citizen. Meanwhile, geologists tracking recent trends warn of the disaster to come, but the civic crooks put personal gain well above public safety. The lynchpin in a cabal that includes railroad magnates, crooked cops, and avaricious politicians, attorney Rolf regularly hires courtesans of the famous Madame Tessie Wall. Indeed, Kansas teenager Kaitlin Staley, dreaming of fame and fortune, runs away from her domineering father and straight into the arms of the predatory Wall and Rolf. Both Barrymore and Caruso are onstage the night before the early morning quake (Caruso’s pre-performance rituals are outlined in amusing detail), and Dalessandro tracks a dozen other denizens of Nob Hill, Pacific Heights, Bush Street and elsewhere in the hours before the tremor. An action-packed final third dramatizes the quake and subsequent fire, and their impact on the sprawling cast of characters.

Prelude to the disaster feels a bit like woolgathering, but Dalessandro (Bohemian Heart, 1993, etc.) pays off with an exciting and vivid depiction of history.

Pub Date: April 18, 2004

ISBN: 0-8118-4313-0

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2004

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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