THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS

The US debut of Portuguese writer Saragamo: a novel written in the best classical European tradition, rich in allusions, occasionally surreal, and concerned with the human condition. Set in Lisbon, it's the story of the last year of Dr. Ricardo Reis, a man in his late 40s who has come back to Portugal to make a new life for himself. As the old year—1934—ends, Reis disembarks from the steamer that has brought him from Brazil, where he has spent the last 16 years. Unmarried, a poet as well as a doctor, Reis originally fled Portugal because of political upheaval, and a recent revolution in Brazil has in part precipitated his return. He stays first in a hotel, where he is attracted to a young woman guest who comes to Lisbon for medical treatment, and at the same time he takes the hotel maid, Lydia, as his mistress. Meanwhile, a friend and poet, recently dead, frequently accompanies Reis as he walks around Lisbon. There seems little point or purpose to Reis' life. He moves to an apartment, continues his relationship with Lydia, and asks the young hotel guest to marry him, but these seem more gestures of despair than acts of hope. Reis' politics are never really spelled out, but as the year progresses—and it is a significant year as the political situation in Europe and Portugal rapidly deteriorates—Reis finds it more difficult to remain aloof. When Lydia's brother dies in an antigovernment mutiny, Reis realizes that he can no longer be a bystander; but that admission is too much, and he goes off to join his dead friend, afraid to look back because if he does "he might let out finally his mighty howl." A compelling portrait of a man of great sensibilities and bleak vision, who, failing to escape the world in life, prefers death. And the Lisbon of the Thirties that Saragamo describes—gray, run-down, and filled with paupers—further increases this feeling of futility and moral decay. An accomplished debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0002712784

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1990

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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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