THE GANGSTER OF LOVE

Hagedorn's (The Dogeaters, 1990) episodic second novel seems to wander in a fog, as does the heroine who narrates most of this disjointed tale; she migrates in the 1970s with her mother and brother to the US from the Philippines, where she led a sheltered life as a Catholic schoolgirl. In the States, Raquel ``Rocky'' Rivers discovers her rock-and- roll self: She and her depressive brother, Voltaire, idolize Jimi Hendrix. While she scribbles pseudo-Beat poems, he wanders San Francisco's Tenderloin, where he meets aspiring rocker Elvis Chang. Rocky turns 18 and becomes Elvis's lover; they launch a band, The Gangster of Love, with Rocky on vocals. Despite embracing America's pop culture, though, Rocky still feels some loyalty to her overbearing mother Milagros, a spitfire who left her unfaithful husband back in the Philippines and who clings to her old world customs. A sexual prude despite her posturing, Rocky comes under the liberating influence of Keiko von Heller, an artist and free spirit who gradually becomes a pop celebrity. Moving to Los Angeles with the band, Rocky gets to spend time with her uncle Marlon, a gay actor with AIDS, who dreams of going home to die. The band eventually finds some modest success in New York, based on one briefly hot single. Rocky ends up working at a New Age clinic, still obsessing about her family. She eventually replaces the mercurial Elvis with Jake, a solid fellow who works as a recording engineer; they have a daughter, Venus. When Milagros, ``the queen of self pity,'' arrives in New York, she haunts the Imelda Marcos trial and harangues her daughter. Sudden shifts in voice and tense are jarring and ineffective, and the several dream sequences Hagedorn injects are expendable. A diffuse, sometimes frustrating, narrative of a young woman's coming of age in a strange land, with some compelling, if generic, scenes of cross-cultural misunderstanding. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 1996

ISBN: 0-395-75412-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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