A Brautigan-esque ramble through a river’s history.

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DREAM FISHING THE LITTLE SPOKANE

A debut abstract novel ponders the intersection of nature, history, and writing.

The Little Spokane River, a 35-mile-long tributary of the Spokane River in eastern Washington state, is the geographic and spiritual nexus for this episodic tale. “Dream Fishing” is somewhat equivalent to daydreaming or woolgathering: the narrators meander through the countryside and around the riverbanks, sharing anecdotes about local characters, buildings, and books and articles they have read as well as an assortment of koans, fables, and bits of folklore. “Think of Dream Fishing as a train wreck or a library or even a visit with Carl Jung,” Dunn advises readers at one point. “Think of Dream Fishing as something in a child’s hand.” In “The Great Northern Train Wreck,” a foster child fishes for tench on the Chain Lakes and catches the ID plate from a derailed locomotive. In “What the Biker Chick Said,” the eponymous woman details the recipe for Spam fried rice at the Dragoon Creek Campground. In “Dream Fishing the Little Spokane Library,” the narrator imagines a ghostly library among the old and forgotten cemeteries in the environs of the river. In a characteristic display of metafictional winking, the subsequent chapter is called “Footnotes to the Dream Fishing the Little Spokane Library Chapter.” It begins: “I was thinking you might like some explanation for what’s in the ‘Dream Fishing the Little Spokane Library’ chapter. You might have the impression that we writers sometimes get a bit carried away.” These short pieces, which turn away from one another and back again like bends in the river itself, accumulate in readers’ minds to form a picture not just of a place, but of a certain mindset: melancholic, irreverent, and untamed. Dunn writes in a conversational prose that is nevertheless capable of moments of sincere lyricism: “I was thinking about America’s children, the way they leave their morning homes, sleepy eyed, their breath fogging the frostbite air.” At other points, he seems to attempt to goad readers into skipping ahead to the next chapter, offering a timeline of the events in the life of a 19th-century police officer or a chart of “U.S. Yearly Road Kill Estimates.” While certain characters recur, the protagonist of this wayward text is Dunn himself, leading readers through a series of mostly unrelated segments. The author references Richard Brautigan several times throughout the volume. Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America is clearly the primary influence here. For some readers that may be welcome; for others, it may be a good sign that they should stay away. As in Brautigan’s books, Dunn’s work operates by its own internal logic that is often quite opaque. One exchange between characters early on accurately captures the experience of reading the novel: “What do you think of that?” “Wow, that’s quite a story.” “Sure is. Makes you think, doesn’t it?” “Maybe. Makes you think about what?” “I don’t know, just makes you think.” Indeed.

A Brautigan-esque ramble through a river’s history.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9993339-0-7

Page Count: 142

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2017

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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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