A sprawling and somewhat unfocused tale of life, love, and family.




A blue-blood American family endures trials and tribulations from the 1950s through the present day.

The WASPy Chadwicks are “like American royalty,” a vast extended clan with money and roots dating back to before the Revolution. When Allen’s (The Hanging Man, 2018, etc.) ambitious and expansive novel opens, it’s 1954, and the family has gathered for its annual Thanksgiving celebration at the Old Home. Aging patriarch Pop suddenly dies, which sets the stage for a new generation of Chadwicks to come to the fore, including stockbroker Ted; his loving wife, Jane; and a confusing passel of kids, grandchildren, cousins, and in-laws. This multigenerational family saga offers a snapshot of American life through the decades as the Chadwicks deal with unplanned pregnancies, an interracial romance, economic crises, and more. Mores may shift and political winds change, but the Chadwicks prove resilient, as their strong commitment to family keeps them together. Unfortunately, that might not be enough to hold readers’ interest. There’s the germ of a compelling story here, but the book lacks tension and is overstuffed with characters and competing plot points. Potentially dramatic twists—a suspected suicide, the specter of AIDS—are swiftly introduced and even more quickly resolved. Several chapters open with a rote recitation of significant world events at the time. While this device attempts to situate the story in a larger historical context, these incidents are largely divorced from the everyday lives of the various Chadwicks. Intriguing characters abound, like a sexually repressed Army colonel and an ambitious young woman who marries the son of a Mexican cabinet secretary, although they beg to be explored in more depth. But Allen has wisely chosen his setting, with most scenes occurring at the quaint family compound near Plattsburgh, New York, to which the family returns again and again over the years. Without this home base, “a huge weathered clapboard house” on the shore of Lake Champlain, the Chadwicks would likely have splintered long ago. But by maintaining a physical link to a shared past, they are also able to stay connected to one another, “happy to be who they were, and where they were.”

A sprawling and somewhat unfocused tale of life, love, and family.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018


Page Count: 271

Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2018

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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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