A bit familiar but exciting nonetheless.

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THE LAST BOOK EVER WRITTEN

VICTOR VALE

In a future dictatorship, detective Victor Vale starts questioning authority when, to infiltrate a dissident cell, he goes undercover as a writer.

Readers may be strongly reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451—not so much by any Bradbury-esque poetry of language, which author Kruvant refrains from imitating, but by the similar consumer-dictatorship milieu, a capitalist police state in which artistic/creative acts are potential threats. Welcome to the Nation, a harsh, isolationist future-USA after WWIII, purged of nonwhites and micromanaged under a stern, distant female president. There’s a yawning chasm between rich and poor: ubiquitous robotics have left the now-obsolete working poor as a mob of beggars and low-caste disenfranchised homeless; those lucky enough to be born into the “Upperclass” or the government or security forces now dwell and commute in high-rise splendor in the skies, their affluent lives benumbed by violent video games, celebrity gossip, nanotech-enhanced sex, kitschy movies, and, of course, personal virtual-reality Internet connectivity. Art and literature are fiercely discouraged because “Creators” tend to rebel against the system. Narrator Victor Vale, a rising police detective, is fortunate enough to be married to a beautiful lawyer, and he expects further salary bonuses with a major assignment: go undercover as a Creator to determine whether Sylvester Huppington—head of a rare surviving book publisher and widely perceived to be a government lackey—actually leads a clandestine cell of Creators. But Vale’s vulnerabilities, such as sympathy for the beggars and a growing fascination with the Creator world, jeopardize his mission and his family. A great deal of this material is by now Dystopia 101, and the language is often rudimentary—perhaps befitting the writer/protagonist’s deliberately dumbed-down culture and upbringing. (Amusingly, while Bradbury’s “firemen” burned books, here the Technological Police Force “liquidate” them with some kind of spray-solvent.) Yet the entertaining narrative minefield pops with surprises and grim echoes of our present, keeping the pages turning toward a downbeat conclusion. In this battle of anti-intellectualism vs. the humanities, guess who has the bigger guns.

A bit familiar but exciting nonetheless.

Pub Date: April 28, 2015

ISBN: 978-1942693178

Page Count: 280

Publisher: PanAm Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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