Brilliant and brutal; a thrilling story surrounding complex, nuanced considerations of nihilism, optimism, and our own...

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EDGE OF THE KNOWN BUS LINE

Gapinski’s (Messiah Tortoise, 2018) surrealist novella doles out dark comedy, visceral detail, and deft commentary in equal measure.

Our main character’s bus commute takes her between work and a home life she’d rather not discuss, accompanied by the same sad, stained, frequently off-putting fellow passengers. When the bus’s marquee reads “Out of Service,” she finds herself taken not to her menial job behind a deli butcher’s counter but a barren shantytown in a desert wilderness. Despite seemingly hopeless circumstances, she remains determined to leave this place even as her butchery skills earn her a certain cachet in a town that survives on rat meat, beetles, and the dead. Her refusal to join one of the town’s cultlike factions makes her an object of fascination. In a world where the bus driver is armed and dangerous and only drops off new arrivals or drives pickups in a circle, there’s something heroic in her persistence as well as that of the townsfolk. Their lives are ugly, crude, and filthy, but they’ve still carved a society out of the will to survive and from every scrap that comes in on the bus, like using makeup as an accelerant for a fire barrel. Gapinski’s matter-of-fact prose works perfectly here, the straight-faced descriptions of death and cannibalism lending a comic tinge to the macabre proceedings: “Bus-Driver opens the door and pushes out the body. It’s got a terrible smell, like skunk and shit mixed with a hint of blood.” The story only heightens this dissonance with naturalistic dialogue, forcing readers to question what “normal” is when credit cards and other modern symbols of power and prosperity lose their meanings. Finally, for all the gore and horror, this isn’t The Road or Mad Max or any such story of the barbaric. The threatening aspects of the denizens of Out of Service seemingly stem from their extreme poverty and the narrator’s refusal to participate in their social order, not from any malice. Thus the novella poses questions of why these people have been thrust into these hellish circumstances, how they can escape them, and ultimately how different their lives really are from our own.

Brilliant and brutal; a thrilling story surrounding complex, nuanced considerations of nihilism, optimism, and our own existential reality.

Pub Date: May 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9988976-0-8

Page Count: 134

Publisher: Etchings Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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