An offbeat but overlong story of a romantic relationship.

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THE SPACE BETWEEN

In Crowell’s (Etched on Me, 2014, etc.) novel, two long-distance friends admit their love for each other without fully considering the psychological consequences.

Washington, D.C., resident Gloria Burgess has survived her first year of widowhood. On the anniversary of her husband Bill’s death from leukemia, she sends her 8-year-old son, Curran, away to a sleepover, and the apartment is all hers to have a good cry. Her overwhelming stress is apparent when her best friend, Jascha Kremsky, calls from England: “There’s a stranger in the mirror,” she tells him. “She looks like me, and she moves when I move, but she’s not me.” Fearing that Gloria will harm herself, Jascha convinces her to go to the emergency room, ending the call with a whispered “I love you.” She submits to a psychiatric hold for the weekend, and the doctor tells her that she’ll need extensive therapy to process her loss. But her memory of Jascha’s whispered declaration makes her desperately need to see him. He immediately flies in from Europe, and they realize that they both desire to have more than a mere friendship. But Jascha is still suffering from severe PTSD due to his family’s death in a car crash five years before. The fact of their mutual tragedies, in fact, had helped him and Gloria to cement their friendship. But Jascha quickly scraps his decision to stay in the United States in order to return to England for his own extensive therapy; for their love to truly flourish, they’ll both need to work through their grief. Crowell’s fiction draws heavily on themes of mental illness and the concomitant social stigma attached to its diagnosis; her main characters don’t merely experience passing depressions but have chronic conditions that require professional intervention. Indeed, the novel’s focus on mental health is one of its strengths, as it’s a refreshing and underrepresented subject in fiction. However, the book offers chapter after chapter depicting the lengthy process of therapeutic desensitization exercises, which results in an overly long novel. Crowell has a gift for characterization, and Curran and other supporting characters do emerge as fully developed people, but one will wish that more pages were devoted to them instead of to details of therapy sessions.

An offbeat but overlong story of a romantic relationship.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Carnelian Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2017

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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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