Novels such as this extensively researched and passionate polemic are not necessarily art, but, like Sinclair Lewis’ The...

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A SPARK OF LIGHT

A day at a Mississippi abortion clinic unfurls backward as a self-appointed avenging angel wreaks havoc.

Picoult’s latest takes the unusual tack of proceeding in reverse. At 5 p.m., the Center, Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic, is awash in blood as Hugh McElroy, a Jackson police negotiator, is still bargaining with George Goddard, the deranged gunman who has occupied the Center for hours. Five hostages have been released, two gravely wounded: Hugh’s sister, Bex, and Dr. Louie Ward, the Center’s surgeon (whom, according to her author’s note, Picoult based on the outspoken abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker). One person inside is dead, and Hugh is still waiting for word of his teenage daughter, Wren, who had gone to the Center for a prescription for birth control pills, accompanied by her aunt Bex. As the day moves backward, several voices represent a socio-economic cross-section of the South; a few are on the front lines of the anti-abortion vs. abortion-rights war—but most are merely seeking basic women’s health care. Olive, 68, is at the Center for a second opinion; Janine, an anti-abortion activist, is there to spy; Joy is seeking an abortion; and Izzy is pregnant and conflicted. George wants revenge—his daughter recently had an abortion. A third father-daughter story runs parallel to the hostage crisis: A teenager named Beth, hospitalized for severe bleeding, is being prosecuted for murder after having taken abortifacient drugs she'd ordered online at 16 weeks pregnant. At times, Picoult defaults to her habitual sentimentality, particularly in describing the ties that bind Hugh, Wren, and Bex. This novel is unflinching, however, in forcing readers to witness the gory consequences of a mass shooting, not to mention the graphic details of abortions at various stages of gestation and the draconian burdens states like Mississippi have placed on a supposed constitutional right. For Dr. Ward, an African-American, “the politics of abortion” have “so much in common with the politics of racism.” The Times Arrow or Benjamin Button–like backward structure adds little except for those ironic tinges hindsight always provides.

Novels such as this extensively researched and passionate polemic are not necessarily art, but, like Sinclair Lewis’ The Jungle, they are necessary.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-345-54498-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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