A haunting and beautiful tale of friendship, forgiveness, and forgetting.

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A Window on the Door

Two men—a wayward teenager and a weathered priest—share their demons in this debut novel.

Jonathan, a high school student from Oregon, knows that there has to be more for him than a low-paying job and a dysfunctional family. Donald is an untraditional member of the clergy—he drinks, smokes, and fixes motors of all kinds. Donald didn’t begin as a man of God. He only became a priest because he killed the mobster ultimately responsible for his son’s death. Jonathan moves to Texas with a desire for manual labor; he wants to work on oil rigs (“Jonathan had found his unlikely way south from the pioneer northwest, touched by the infinite sky and still raw with wilderness. Mountains where men do not rule”). He finds Donald, and the two, each suffering in his own way, form an unlikely bond. As both men’s stories fly through the years, their unease and obvious respective neuroses ratchet higher and higher—Jonathan falls for his boss’s daughter, who will never love him, and Donald fantasizes about murdering the man who actually killed his son—bringing the work to an end that is tense, poetic, and heart-stopping. In this novel (funded, incidentally, by a Kickstarter campaign), forgiveness remains elusive. A subtle and yet masterly writer, Watson eschews the conventions of everyday prose (capitalization, punctuation, etc.) for his own style. Though it’s a bit confusing at first, it’s best to just go along with the author on his deeply layered and heartbreaking ride. The story is told through a sequence of vignettes—a Mexican restaurant on Cinco de Mayo night, a graduation party, a trip to the hardware store—and each one complexly falls atop the next, pushing both the tension and the story faster until it bursts, albeit gorgeously, in a final climax. The end is both gut-wrenching and nearly addictive, as if the reader couldn’t possibly take another bite and yet still craves more. Watson’s prose vacillates between short, choppy dialogue and long, luxuriating sentences, as though he couldn’t decide which skill to show off. One misstep is the book’s occasional illustrations—they distract from the lushness of the words on the page. Watson’s talent is obvious, and this arresting work should stay with readers, passages popping up like bubbles when they least expect it. 

A haunting and beautiful tale of friendship, forgiveness, and forgetting.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-692-51020-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Green Gate Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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