A set of penetrating and absorbing tales.



In Knox’s (After the Gazebo, 2015, etc.) latest short story collection, characters struggle to maintain connections with others despite natural disasters and more mundane circumstances, such as aging.

Haley and her parents hardly have it easy in drought-ridden Toledo, Ohio, in the opening title story. They take family outings to a nearly empty downtown; water is rationed, so Haley’s dad gives her some of his supply despite his own cracked lips. Other tales also feature social units, typically familial, facing menaces that bring emotional torment to the surface. A man named Owen, for example, in “Running Toward the Sun,” is racing to help raise money for breast and reproductive-system cancer research. But an unexpected calamity forces him to face the truth that he’s running from: the fact that his wife, a cancer survivor, has cheated on him multiple times. In “A Perpetual State of Awe,” a woman and her son are stuck inside their home due to a heavy snowstorm, and the abode is at risk of collapsing—much like her marriage. In other instances, families simply strive to stay together; an elderly, troubled couple finds common ground in “The Couple on the Roof.” There are occasional touches of sci-fi, but Knox so adeptly molds her believable characters that the apocalyptic settings seem less surreal. In “Nebraska,” for instance, a small-town woman searches for items in an overcrowded local grocery store that’s full of people who are missing body parts or growing extra ones. The muted aspect of the genre elements mirrors the cautious tone of Knox’s prose: “Houses are being built everywhere, exact replicas of each other excepting the color of the paint, or the direction the garage is facing.” The tales are effectively linked by recurring themes but also by recurring characters—most notably the tattooed loner Rattle, who makes three appearances as part of a doomed relationship (“Don’t Tease the Elephants”); as the father of an estranged daughter (“West on N Road”); and, possibly, on his deathbed (“The Slope of a Line”).

A set of penetrating and absorbing tales.

Pub Date: June 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9967779-4-0

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Hollywood Books International

Review Posted Online: July 31, 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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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.


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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