An intriguingly realistic social tale about a despairing parent.

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SOCIAL HILL

A debut autobiographical novel follows a black father dealing with—or avoiding—his problems, and all the effects this has on his family and friends.

Tony Hill introduces himself by noting that he is “afflicted with an invisible sickness.” What that malady is and how he is not “an easy man” are the main focuses of the book, which catalogs a rough time in his life. When readers meet Tony, a Chicago kid and Navy veteran, he’s living in his mom’s house in San Antonio, Texas, with his white wife, Darlene, and two kids, one of whom has Asperger syndrome. In retrospect, this is almost a good time in Tony’s life, when his biggest worries include having to talk about sex with his daughter. (When she asks how far she can go and still be “okay,” he starts talking about centrifugal and centripetal forces; he’s not going to win any father of the year awards, but he’s trying.) But soon, Tony’s life spirals out of control, with him taking his two kids and living out of his car or in seedy hotels, and soon running out of money. If this were a Hollywood movie, Tony would (as he notes, sardonically) get his groove back, but the author doesn’t paint so optimistic a picture. Instead, readers see Tony trying to find love (or simply reminiscing about his greatest romance, his “Mount Rushmore” of relationships), getting into trouble with the law, and realizing (on one long road trip) that he’ll probably have to beg for gas money. This is a dark picture of a troubled man in hard times, somewhat lightened by Tony’s sense of humor and chattiness. Actually, with its asides like “I’ll probably tell you about later” and “I forgot to tell you about that,” this novel reads like the ruminations of a somewhat rambling guy sitting at a bar. It employs an engaging, casual tone and allows Tony to discuss a lot of serious topics—race, gender, love, faith, politics—with different characters. But it may not propel readers through the story.

An intriguingly realistic social tale about a despairing parent.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5391-6057-1

Page Count: 296

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 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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