A sensitive drama about an aged scientist in an anti-intellectual era.



Piatigorsky (The Speed of Dark, 2018, etc.) offers a speculative novel about a researcher undertaking a pure-knowledge scientific study in an era of hostility to free inquiry. 

Financial collapse in the near future has left the United States with a huge unemployment rate, new diseases appearing and old scourges returning, more conservatives in Congress, and a rabble-rousing Washington, D.C., reporter slamming taxpayer spending on any research that doesn’t promise immediate, practical payoff. In the 2040s, researcher Ricardo Sztein is an aged, respected fixture at the Vision Science Center who is shaken after his wife’s cancer death. He embraces his other great love—science experimentation just for the sake of knowledge, not a dictated agenda or financial return. His curiosity about how jellyfish see with multiple eyes (“rhopalia”) of unexpected complexity sends him to the swamps of Puerto Rico, supported by like-minded colleagues and a loan of NASA computer tech. Clues uncovered in his field lab hint at new revelations about animal perception and evolutionary biology. But when his rambles become publicly known, grandstanding politicians and media condemn him, cuing a public tribunal that’s reminiscent of that in the film Inherit the Wind. Piatigorsky is a scientist and essayist, so he knows of what he speaks regarding the cloistered realm of modern inquiry and exploration, which includes people jockeying for grants with ambition masked by professional etiquette. He also expresses scientists’ angst that average citizens appreciate nothing about basic research and could pull the plug on it at any moment. The future that the author evokes in this high-minded, speculative drama is thinly sketched, but what readers do glean about it is unpleasant, indeed. The jellyfish material, meanwhile, seems fanciful, but it’s firmly based in fact; the author includes photographic illustrations here that shore up the science. However, his book never aspires to Michael Crichton–like dimensions, so readers expecting a mind-blower like Carl Sagan’s 1985 blockbuster Contact should dial down their expectations. Still, it’s an intelligent, wistful rumination on the value of scientific pursuit, the joy of discovery, and the loneliness of a maverick thinker.

A sensitive drama about an aged scientist in an anti-intellectual era.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9965481-0-6

Page Count: 260

Publisher: IPBooks

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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