A well-written yet off-base thriller that would benefit from more plot and less stereotyping.

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THE ROCHE LIMIT

In Vesterberg’s debut novel, an Army major in an undercover terrorist-targeting program has a change of heart about America’s role in the world.

Vesterberg skillfully portrays Maj. Bob Faller, who travels overseas to interview an informant but finds that the bloodied, dying man is Mahmoud, an old friend. In the tradition of political/military thrillers, Faller is hellbent on learning what went wrong with this “asset.” His investigation leads him to Florida to see billionaire Sheldon Orelson, a former strip-club owner who’s also an amateur astronomer. Orelson tells him about the Roche Limit, the moment one celestial body comes close enough to another to be torn apart by it, thus ceasing to exist independently. It’s a none-too-subtle analogy for “the powers that be.” Tension builds until Faller finds his boss’s body at their office in Virginia. Though it appears the obese boss choked on his KFC, Faller suspects a different kind of foul play and finds a memory card in the man’s throat. He grabs it and goes on the run. So is he a patriot or a traitor? No matter, for most readers will see him as a bigot. This modern-day Archie Bunker sees women as unfit for the military, blacks as perpetually aggrieved, Jews as Holocaust-obsessed and liberals as “graying hippies.” It’s no surprise Faller’s marriage is shaky or that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter, who happens to run the Chicago campaign office of the “African Muslim Communist” running for president. Halfway through the book, the momentum sputters when a serious health challenge makes Faller re-examine his life, apparently forsaking some of his bigotry. Yet his change of heart doesn’t ring true, as he abandons lifelong beliefs, even voting for “the Communist.” Whatever his voting preferences, the social commentary distracts from an otherwise engrossing tale, especially when the racism goes off the rails: “With their ball caps turned sideways, the jungle bunnies jig towards their subsidized housing on the other side of the interstate. They look really excited—as if they were on their way to swing from Lady Bird’s chandeliers, stink up the Oval Office with drug-laced Black & Milds and stain James Madison’s chairs with their foul-smelling, greasy hair products.”

A well-written yet off-base thriller that would benefit from more plot and less stereotyping.

Pub Date: June 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615801452

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Exilio Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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