A vivid but messy adventure surrounding a young impressionist.



A debut historical novel summons the art world of 19th-century Paris.

Who could have guessed that René Bernard, the son of an oysterman, would become one of the most legendary painters of the impressionist era? A childhood illness provides the opportunity to escape the family business and instead attend art school in Lyon. From there, René goes to Paris, like all the painters of his generation, to make a name for himself amid the squalor and brilliance of the city’s bohemian arts community. It is in Paris that he first lays eyes on the Flower Girl, a woman of beauty and intrigue who immediately steals his heart: “This young girl had hair of long beautiful brown curls that fell from her head and surrounded her shoulders. Her skin was as clear and unblemished as a newborn baby.” René sets out to court the Flower Girl—whose true identity is unknown—and make her his muse, though in this he is challenged by the Critic, a bane to artists everywhere who is also shrouded in mystery. Soldiers, ladies, and a trained lion round out the cast of characters of René’s colorful milieu. In a time when art can make a man famous or destroy his life, this budding painter must determine what cost he is willing to pay for immortality. MacDougall writes in a stylistic prose that brings René’s Paris to life with gritty detail: “She had a bit of a purse but dressed in rags. Tongues had come to Paris to blend in and make a life for herself, whatever that might mean. She took a room in the least expensive district, living with an alcoholic woman, and her lover, another alcoholic woman.” René’s paintings (actually created by the author, an artist) possess a certain folksy charm, but they don’t look like anything that would have been executed by a renowned impressionist. In addition, MacDougall unfortunately invests in the intricacies of his plot rather than the development of his characters: Numerous pseudonyms and hidden backstories obscure these figures, and the eventual reveals are not particularly satisfying. Ambitious and occasionally inventive, this sprawling novel never quite achieves the level of intrigue it seeks.

A vivid but messy adventure surrounding a young impressionist.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5470-7139-5

Page Count: 358

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 12, 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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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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