A wonderfully written, provocative novel that utilizes two distinct genres to promote progressive cultural messages.

IN THE SHADOW OF BABYLON

An epoch-spanning thriller that’s part academic mystery and part historical fantasy.

This time-traversing story opens in 11,000 B.C. with a first-person tale rendered in high archaic fashion but with clear psychological self-awareness. Ayuba, a clansman shepherd from a time just outside of recorded history, relates the terrible destruction of his family and his herd. Ayuba’s story continues throughout, but it is the discovery of this man’s poem (the oldest writing in the world) that incites the events in 2004. Flashing forward 13,000 years to an Iraqi academic’s bedroom, the novel’s modern thriller-style plot begins. Dr. Elman Darshi is trying to convince his wife that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist agents are not in fact coming for them in the night. The sudden jump in time and tone is remarkably compelling rather than jarring and gives this novel its unique literary fascination. Ancient tablets containing the Song of Ayuba lead to information that is not only threatening to Hussein’s small empire of megalomania, but to established history and cultural orthodoxy. After Darshi is eliminated for his years of research and toil, his daughter, Alex, picks up the torch and reads the translation to the world on satellite television. The song itself is yet another layer in the literary quality of the novel and works as the novel’s philosophical centerpiece. The poem is lyrical, mystical and shockingly secular—this in particular causes a great deal of controversy once the poem is rendered for the Arabic-speaking world. Ayuba’s narrative is essentially a fantastic hero story. After the dissolution of his people, he travels into the Beyond relating his experiences and the strange encounters of a world lost to history. Schwartz deftly weaves the romantic experiences of a pre-historical shepherd into an extended homily that punctuates the trials of the Middle East as the contemporary narrative plunges along in the best page-turner fashion. Not only linked well rhetorically, the prose here is something to behold and is evocative without sacrificing concision, an absolute demand of the thriller genre. Many readers will be convinced that a literary discovery of this magnitude really might change the course of contemporary politics, so confident and convincing is the vision of the novel.

A wonderfully written, provocative novel that utilizes two distinct genres to promote progressive cultural messages.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461107132

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2012

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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