Eccentric, intriguing, almost perversely readable and entertaining. Hamilton never disappoints.

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LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE

Hamilton (When Madeline Was Young, 2006, etc.) reinvents the ménage à trois via the Internet in her lively sixth novel.

When stoically married Laura tires of her puppy-like husband Charlie’s volcanic sexuality and swears off lovemaking, her energies are reawakened to look beyond the successful “farm nursery” they run together in rural Wisconsin. Laura’s dream of writing innovative, grownup romance novels is realized in surprising ways after she meets Milwaukee Public Radio talk show host (and neighbor) Jenna Faroli. Laura engineers Jenna’s friendship with chronically extroverted Charlie, then manipulates that friendship by first assisting, then appropriating her husband’s e-mail correspondence with his new girl friend/girlfriend. The inevitable occurs, skeletons emerge from both women’s marital and familial closets, and a plot cleverly linked to that of a favorite novel (Evelyn Waugh’s elegiac Brideshead Revisited) gathers up Jenna and Charlie in its jaws. Laura pulls strings; risks wrecking lives she believes she’s enriching; and finds bliss at a climactic writers’ conference. This very unusual novel’s ballsy premise and haywire momentum are juggled expertly by the accomplished Hamilton, who somehow circumvents legitimate objections (e.g., no reader will believe Laura would not have foreseen Jenna’s and Charlie’s reactions to being thus thrust together) and keeps us eagerly guessing what further craziness lies in pages ahead. The harrowing story of how her father died serves to explain the narrowness of Laura’s vision; nonetheless, she’s never fully credible as a mixture of unpretentious charm and emotionally stunted duplicity—it’s as if Mary Pickford and Joan Crawford took turns playing the same person in the same movie. Charlie, however, is a wonderful character and an irresistible enigma: “Dreamer, yes; underdog, yes; artist, yes; bonkers, yes.”

Eccentric, intriguing, almost perversely readable and entertaining. Hamilton never disappoints.

Pub Date: April 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-53895-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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