Worthwhile vignettes for the New Yorker in all of us.

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PATHWAYS

A collection of short fiction set in, and sometimes evocative of, New York.

In his inaugural effort, Lawenda gathers four short stories and two novellas in a disparate collection set against the backdrop of New York, which provides not only a theatrical stage, but mood and tenor. In Magnificent Melinda, the first novella, Michael returns to his family’s summer home on Katogah Lake and remembers the first time he met his uncle’s young bride, Melinda. Then only 14, he was instantly drawn to her untamed spirit. Years later, after Melinda and his uncle Sammy have split, Michael bumps into her in Tribeca, and they quickly begin a torrid romance that eventually concludes, to Michael’s eternal disappointment. In the aftermath of her death, he revisits the scene of their first encounter and grapples with the meaning of the extraordinary power she still has over him. In “Lunch with Louie,” Steve is crushed by the lack of purpose and shame that torment him after he loses his job and can’t find another. He spends his afternoons aimlessly wandering Madison Square Park, and his marriage starts to crumble under the weight of his growing torpor. Then, one day, he bumps into an old business associate experiencing a similar crisis. In the final novella, Translation, Chella flees Colombia to become a translator in New York. She reluctantly turns to prostitution to make ends meet and encounters Anthony, who rekindles her love of art, introduces her to a rarified world of wealth, and restores some hope lost in love itself. Besides the New York locations, the narrative twine that connects these stories is a confrontation with despair as well as the opportunities for redemption within that personal darkness. Lawenda beautifully captures the revitalization that can sometimes spring from a date with the abyss. One could argue that these pieces don’t powerfully capture the inimitable flavor of the city; the mood is wistful and somber in most stories, when a soupçon of humor might have lightened readers’ load. Still, the overall emotional intelligence of the collection is notable, and the unadorned prose delivers its message with a Spartan power.

Worthwhile vignettes for the New Yorker in all of us. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Peppertree Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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