A mostly enjoyable, if flawed, set of stories.



Tales of grace and despair abound in a new short story collection from Mulhern (Drenched to the Bone, 2016, etc.).

Most of these stories follow Molly Bonamici, a girl coming of age in Italian-American Boston. Her parents are consumed by work, so her main bond is with her beloved grandmother, or “Nonna.” In “Through a Convent Gate,” Molly and Nonna visit a crabby alcoholic neighbor’s home—a trip that first seems compassionate but then becomes a robbery. In “Mannequin,” Molly’s prank on an obnoxious college roommate leads to an unexpectedly extreme outcome. In “Smoke Rings,” she and Nonna conspire to fake an injury and scam a bank manager, discussing some facts of life afterward, and in “Myra Bocca,” an older Molly living in Florida encounters an intrusive shop proprietor who unexpectedly steals her credit card. Only two entries focus on other characters: the title story, in which a young boy forms an unlikely bond with a perpetually unlucky and alcoholic neighbor, and the final piece, which tells of a young teacher in a dysfunctional classroom, struggling to understand his own divorce. Mulhern demonstrates considerable powers of description, particularly when portraying his saddest characters: one woman, for example, has “broken capillaries that sloped down the sides of her nostrils” and “spindly, awkward limbs [that] stuck out of a round body, like you might see in a kindergartner’s rendering of a person.” Another of the author’s strengths is in eliciting compassion for less-than-likable figures. Nonna, for example, sneers at others and cheerfully damages Molly’s moral compass, but a glimpse of her aging, bruised body connotes a life of hard living. Molly herself is harder to pin down, showing compassion in some stories and cold detachment in others. Some of the material is repeated with variations—one story, for example, appears again as part of a later, longer piece, and it’s debatable whether this repetition creates meaningful layers or simply takes up space. Mulhern also offers some distractingly over-the-top moments (including a few deaths that seem almost cartoonish), but the quieter scenes show the mind of a talented writer at work.

A mostly enjoyable, if flawed, set of stories.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5233-1859-9

Page Count: 128

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 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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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.


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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