Irish author O’Connor (Yeats Is Dead!, 2001; etc.) pulls out all the melodramatic stops for a thrilling tale without once...

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STAR OF THE SEA

A bumptious epic about a New World–bound ship Star of the Sea, full of raging immigrants, conflicted aristocrats, and a flint-eyed murderer.

It’s the tumultuous year of 1847 when O’Connor’s gallimaufry of characters board a “coffin ship” bound from Ireland to New York. Hundreds of famine refugees huddle in steerage, while just above them a handful of first-class passengers reside in splendor, though they’re rent with hidden intrigues—and all hear the thudding gait of the loner with the bad leg who wanders the ship at night. At center are two men in particular: the aristocrat David Merridith and the limping loner, Pius Mulvey. Merridith is a self-loathing scion of a British family that had long owned a large chunk of Ireland. When the estate’s fortunes crashed, at the height of the famine, most of the tenant families were put off the land—while corpses littered the countryside. Now on his way to New York with wife and children, Merridith has many secrets, most concerning their servant, Mary Duane. Pius is of a different stripe, though he hates himself just as much: having abandoned a pregnant girlfriend and his slightly mad brother in Ireland, Pius made himself into a high-living thief in London’s East End, one night even giving great inspiration to Charles Dickens, who was slumming for material. Later come to ruin, Pius has been embarked on a mission by some Hibernian thugs who won’t take no for an answer: kill the English scum David Merridith. Told mostly in flashbacks, and mostly through the highly arched voice of first-class passenger and journalist Grantley Dixon, this is the sort of gloriously overstuffed story that could be told in hushed breath over fifteen or so lengthy installments on late-night radio.

Irish author O’Connor (Yeats Is Dead!, 2001; etc.) pulls out all the melodramatic stops for a thrilling tale without once losing his eye for the right detail or his ear for the perfect phrase.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100908-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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