An engaging, if somewhat conventional, depiction of an artist’s struggle to find a community and maintain his integrity in...



From childhood, Harley Jay Buchanan views the world through the eyes of an artist, and his drive to develop this vision leads him from 1960s rural Texas to the dynamic, if pretentious, bohemian neighborhoods of New York in this coming-of-age novel.

Growing up in the bleak, drought-stricken landscape of Separation, Texas, Harley lives the normal life of a farmer’s son, doing a man’s work in the fields before school and playing first base on his high school baseball team. But Harley differs from his family and his pals in his compulsion to express the way he sees the world through his drawings and paintings, a divergence that he finds both thrilling and isolating. When he finds his girlfriend having sex with another boy, Harley hits the road to begin his journey toward becoming a real artist. After a promising beginning with a mentor in Dallas, Harley suspends his art education when his second girlfriend becomes pregnant. Ever responsible and decent, he takes a job in the oil fields to support his new family, coming under the patronage of Wendell Whitehead, an earthy oil tycoon, and his aristocratic wife, Mavis. Harley is still determined to get to New York, the center of the art world, and his torturous odyssey leads him to lose everything before finally taking the first steps toward finding himself. Along the way, he learns just how blind he has been to the most important aspects of his life. Asher (My Big Brother’s Birthday, 2015, etc.) has produced a persuasive portrait of a young artist’s passage to manhood, filled with unobtrusively evocative descriptions and characterizations. While some of Harley’s experiences veer from the predictable to the wildly improbable, the protagonist himself remains refreshingly honorable and doggedly persistent in pursuing his goal to become an artist. At one point, he finds inspiration in his own problems (“During the last few days he had at some level been grinding real-life events into a pictorial soup, struggling with how he might translate each ordeal into a graphic experience”). It is unfortunate that one of the work’s climactic scenes rings one of the few false notes in its comic portrayal of near-rape, but the compelling tale still sustains a hopeful tone throughout.

An engaging, if somewhat conventional, depiction of an artist’s struggle to find a community and maintain his integrity in 20th -century America.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4792-3946-7

Page Count: 456

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 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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