An honest look at ugliness, hope, and love in a struggling small town.



In this debut novel, an act of destruction sends a high school football player’s life spiraling toward blessed terrain.

Eighteen-year-old Orville “Orv” Osentoski plays high school football in Canton, Michigan. Part of the state’s Thumb (five counties that are “economically and culturally depressed”), “Can’t Town” loves nothing more than high school sports and beer. One night after a game in neighboring Frankendorf, Orv falls asleep in the locker room, missing the team’s bus home. He shatters a urinal while escaping the locked building and then walks to a tavern called Der Bierstube. Inside he finds Canton’s town drunk, Matty MacDougall, and asks for a ride home. In Matty’s roach-infested 1966 Mercury Montego, the two tour several more bars. After hearing of Orv’s escape, Matty nicknames him Chief and repeats the story to anyone who’ll listen. In the Dunkel Bar, a bartender named Brenda Slohn—who has a large birthmark on her face—sits on Chief’s lap, giving the reserved teen a taste of the Thumb’s adult nightlife. But he also comes away from the experience realizing that Matty, out of Canton’s large crop of characters, has a “diamond-among-rhinestones affability.” He also can’t stop thinking about Brenda, who’s six years older than he is. In this ribald tale, MacNeil offers an unflinching examination of downturned America, where “landscapes are increasingly acned with strip malls and housing complexes,” and most adults consume at least six alcoholic drinks a day. While difficult subjects are explored, the prose delivers excellent psychological nuances; Chief’s father, Garland, strikes his mother and “watching his wife fly across the room reminded him of his football days, which unearthed a confusing mix of contradictory emotions, like...pride and worthlessness.” The author lightens the mood with puns and sexual commentary. When English teacher Liina “Ol’ Bitch” Olbich asks her students to write a paper about someone in Canton whom they admire, Chief’s determination to portray Matty favorably proves emotionally revelatory, for the town’s citizens and MacNeil’s audience. Overall, sweetness and levity battle with bawdiness for the tone of this story.

An honest look at ugliness, hope, and love in a struggling small town.

Pub Date: May 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5356-0712-4

Page Count: 330

Publisher: WaveCloud Corporation

Review Posted Online: June 20, 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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