A likable, pragmatic protagonist comes of age in a comprehensively detailed, chaotic period in history.



From the The Cleanskin Short Stories series , Vol. 2

An adolescent boy develops a political ideology during Ireland’s tumultuous Troubles in Benacre’s (Shape, Shine and Shadow, 2016, etc.) latest short story collection.

After the opening tale, “God’s People,” a discussion between prospective British MI5 agents, narrator Neill McCormac dives into an account of his life in the very next story, “What’s in a Name?” Growing up near Newry, Ireland, in what he calls the “border heartland of the Provisional IRA,” he gets an early introduction to the violence of the Troubles. His mother believes she’s cursed, as each of her children has been born on the same day that a bomb or bullet devastated lives. In “Fence Posts & Milestones,” the 10-year-old McCormac’s rather brutal fight with some other boys is upstaged when word gets out that he uttered anti–IRA remarks at school. Puberty makes it mark, as well, as he recognizes his unmistakable attraction to Aunt Úna, his mom’s younger sister; in one of the book’s best stories, “Flat Shoes and High Hopes,” he and Úna have no choice but to discuss this infatuation when they’re alone at his brother’s wedding. In “...From Little Acorns Grow,” McCormac’s college dissertation on the procurement of Provisional Irish Republican Army weapons so impresses Capt. Eric Lawrence of the British Army’s HQ Northern Ireland that he offers him a job, only half-jokingly. This ultimately leads McCormac to MI5, where he chases Michael McCann, the suspected IRA terrorist and the protagonist of Benacre’s earlier work. The author’s depiction of the historical backdrop is profound, with McCormac moving from being a witness (perusing his mother’s scrapbook of bombings, for example) to being a part of the Security Service. At times, the historical events overshadow McCormac’s sometimes-conventional childhood; for example, he acknowledges that the loss of his virginity, which happened the same night as the 1996 IRA bombing of the London Docklands, was “fairly unremarkable.” That said, the book still makes a worthy counterpart to the first volume, which centers on McCann and his decidedly more savage youth. Like that collection, this one is truly a novel in disguise; an author’s note suggests reading the stories sequentially, and certain tales’ callbacks to earlier characters or incidents make this a necessity.

A likable, pragmatic protagonist comes of age in a comprehensively detailed, chaotic period in history.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5377-3059-2

Page Count: 420

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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