A stirring homage to, and critique of, an ever changing United States.

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The War Less Civil

AN AMERICAN SAGA, 1864 - 1991

A sprawling debut historical novel about a family that grapples with war and political tumult.

Henry Rosenberg and his wife, Augusta, are pacifists on Christian grounds, but he still feels obligated to join the Union Army in 1864, even though he’s old enough to avoid conscription. Augusta loathes Abraham Lincoln almost as much as war itself and feels betrayed by her husband’s decision. Henry eventually returns after witnessing the grisly horror of combat. His experience haunts successive generations of his family, as his descendants also wrestle with the moral conundrums presented by war. Henry’s daughter, also named Augusta, has a similar rift with her husband, John Helden, over the country’s entry into World War I. This pattern of familial struggle continues all the way through World War II, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War. Each time, the family’s ordeal microcosmically mirrors the identity crisis of the nation as a whole, representing evolving attitudes not only about America’s place in the world, but also about women, commerce, and the social fabric itself. Author Heil structures the plot around war but also includes dramatic depictions of Prohibition and the impact of socially divisive issues, such as abortion. A finalist in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition, this book is an ambitious tour de force. It attempts to do double duty by realistically portraying individual people, as well as the nation at large, over the course of more than a century. Unsurprisingly, the plot meanders sometimes, and the characters get languorously lost in seemingly interminable political debates. These disputes are occasionally cast in tendentious tones, making one side seem hyperbolically unsympathetic. (A debate before an audience over Roe v. Wade, for example, depicted at great length, makes the pro-choice advocate seem shrill and dogmatic.) Even so, the author’s success at capturing the internecine conflict in generations of one expanding family, without reducing them to abstract symbols of larger political referents, is remarkable. Overall, this is a powerful, moving tale, reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden in its scope and artistic aspiration.

A stirring homage to, and critique of, an ever changing United States.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 674

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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