An overlong but often engrossing novel.

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LAGGING INDICATORS

In Dahlberg’s (Uptown and Down, 2005) novel, a successful Wall Street trader humiliatingly loses her job and is forced to reconsider her life.

At 35, Mia Lewis is the head of equities at Atlas Capital and the only African-American female trader in a crew of 18. She has an enviable career, and after her firm safely lands on the other side of the 2008 financial crisis, her future looks bright. However, she’s at loggerheads with a new underling, Tripp Armsden, a cocksure jerk who buys a huge position in an unfamiliar company, Touchnology Systems—a recklessly risky bet made without Mia’s approval. She orders Tripp to unload it when its stock price dangerously dips, but he defies her; meanwhile, her boss, Atlas founder Peter Branco, supports Tripp for reasons that she doesn’t grasp. The antagonism between Mia and Tripp—which Dahlberg depicts with nuance—finally erupts into heated conflict when Peter inexplicably decides to promote Tripp to head of equities, making him Mia’s boss. Mia refuses to accept this and presents Peter with an ultimatum—either Tripp goes, or she does. To her anguished surprise, he chooses the latter option and fires her. To add insult to injury, her incensed reaction makes the financial news. Professionally ruined, she realizes that she’s mismanaged her personal finances so egregiously that she’ll soon deplete her meager savings. She sublets her apartment and goes to live rent-free in a friend’s cottage in upstate New York. There, she meets and falls in love with handsome wine-shop owner Oliver Bishop, but his unresolved relationship with his ex-wife complicates their potential future. Meanwhile, Mia isn’t yet done with the world of finance: She aims to sue Atlas for wrongful termination, and in the process, she uncovers troubling information about her ouster. Throughout this novel, Dahlberg intelligently captures the precarious position of a black woman in the white, testosterone-fueled world of New York high finance. She also limns with great subtlety the potentially destructive charms of unchecked careerism: Mia is shown to be so focused on professional advancement and the trappings of success that she almost completely neglects the details of her personal life—including her own finances. With notable skill, Dahlberg shows how the pursuit of elite accomplishment can trap a person in a gilded cage. However, the plot’s pace is often plodding; the author dawdles far too long on incidental details and inessential subplots, which can sometimes make for a lethargic read. Nevertheless, Dahlberg seamlessly combines two very different types of books—a romance novel and a financial thriller—and imbues the result with suspense and emotional depth. What holds the two parts together as a coherent whole is Mia’s process of self-discovery; even as she fights to restore her name and reputation, she reflects deeply on the circumstances of her life. One gets the feeling early on that even if Mia returns to Wall Street, she won’t be her former self, and this aspect gives the story additional dimension.

An overlong but often engrossing novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77342-050-9

Page Count: 342

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2018

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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