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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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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