An extremely important contribution to the field of Mormon fiction, whose current growth just might make all that...

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THE ABOMINABLE GAYMAN

In this novelistic collection of short stories, a gay Mormon missionary struggles to make sense of sexuality and spirituality in 1970s Italy.

Like most young Mormon men, Robert Anderson wants to show his devotion to his church and his God by being a good missionary. The challenges of adjusting as a 19-year-old to missionaries' stringently austere lifestyle and a foreign culture are exacerbated by the shameful, burdensome secret of Anderson's homosexuality. Nonetheless, Anderson believes that if he's righteous and obedient enough, God will bless him by making him straight. Surviving earthquakes and a war between factions of organized crime are frankly easier than coping with the despair of finding that no matter how faithfully and diligently he works, he's still gay. And the biggest problem Anderson faces is his fellow missionaries, not just those he’s attracted to, but a mean-spirited roommate who uses his authority to torment those he dislikes—especially Anderson. But eventually Anderson is assigned as a working companion a beautiful, young Italian who loves Anderson for the kindness and compassion he shows others; that acceptance helps Anderson see that he deserves some of that compassion himself. It's a pleasure to watch Anderson stand up to his bullying roommate and to joke about situations that he previously could scarcely have acknowledged aloud. Ultimately he calmly accepts disgrace because it carries with it such valuable understanding of himself and the nature of the church for which he's been working. Like all short-story collections from Townsend (Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire, 2011, etc), this new work explores the demands and rewards of being Mormon, occasionally in excessive detail; aware of how unfamiliar Mormonism can seem to a general audience, Townsend occasionally overexplains Mormon doctrine and practice, commenting here multiple times, for instance, on the fabric most often used in Mormon underwear. Told from a believably conversational first-person perspective, this collection's novelistic focus on Anderson's journey to thoughtful self-acceptance allows for greater character development than often seen in short stories, which make this well-paced work rich and satisfying, and one of Townsend’s strongest.

An extremely important contribution to the field of Mormon fiction, whose current growth just might make all that explication unnecessary in the future.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1609101183

Page Count: 409

Publisher: Booklocker

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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