Still, despite its flaws: a refreshingly unsentimental story about people trying, not always successfully, to do what’s...

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NEXT OF KIN

The popular Trollope (Marrying the Mistress, 2000, etc.) again deftly profiles ordinary men and women learning to adapt as their lives are disrupted by change and loss.

Life on the Meredith family’s two farms has been pretty predictable. They’re not the most beautiful spreads in England, but they’ve offered solace to Robin, who runs Tideswell, and younger brother Joe, along with parents Harry and Dilys, who farm Dean’s Place. But this seeming serenity is, as usual, only superficial. When Caro, Robin’s American wife, dies from a brain tumor, the thin fabric of the Merediths’ lives disintegrates. Judy, adopted daughter of Caro and Robin, is angry with her father because she feels he mistreated her mother, seeming cool and indifferent. Robin has his own sorrows, as well as financial worries, and Joe, long depressed, feels that with Caro gone he can no longer escape his demons. The pace of events accelerates when Zoe, a photographer who shares a flat with Judy in London, comes down for a weekend, then moves in and becomes Robin’s lover. Soon he’s telling her about his loveless marriage, and she’s also befriending Dilys—a friendship that comforts the crusty matriarch when Joe commits suicide, Harry has an accident, and all learn that they may have to leave the farm. Robin has large debts too (farming is not cheap), and Trollope makes a quiet, heartfelt plea for those who love the land and till it. The Merediths must adapt if they’re to survive, Dilys ruefully concludes: change, together with loss and growth, is life. This would all be more compelling if Caro and Zoe didn’t both seem more like necessary plot catalysts than memorable characters; Caro’s influence on the Merediths never becomes clear, and Zoe is a very sketchy figure.

Still, despite its flaws: a refreshingly unsentimental story about people trying, not always successfully, to do what’s right.

Pub Date: July 9, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89999-2

Page Count: 291

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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