A really fine, deeply intelligent book with so much to think about and so much unexpected hope.



A stodgy, miserable, retired engineering professor in an Australian senior village finds that his world, seemingly in the last stages of crumbling into nothingness, is completely reinvented.

Winner of the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, a prestigious Australian prize, Wilson's (Cusp, 2005) quiet, gorgeously put-together novel opens by introducing professor Frederick Lothian, a rather unlikable man spending what seems to be the last scene of his final act in a detestable "villa" into which he has stuffed the detritus of his life. A partial inventory: a tubular Breuer chair, a Braun turntable, Saarinen tulip chairs and matching oval table, a million memories of bridges, airport terminals, skyscrapers, and blueprints, the remains of a lifelong obsession with form and function. (Images of many of these things are reproduced in the text.) Also crowding the scene are unwashed dishes, abandoned meals, and more painful memories than it seems possible to bear, all founded on a childhood tragedy which remains buried until the end of the book. Having had a beautiful, kind, infinitely tolerant wife, Martha, and two fine children, Lothian has lost them all, Martha to death, his grown daughter and son in other ways. He has done everything possible to avoid meeting his neighbors, but whether he likes it or not, the green-eyed woman next door with the dozens of annoying pet birds is coming into his life. Jan is a fantastic character, and it will take all the wit, insight, patience, and, ultimately, exasperation she can muster to pry this old nut from his shell. The metaphorical layering with regard to extinctions—the ends of things—is beautifully accomplished, and a wide variety of other interesting matters—the treatment of women in engineering school and patriarchal families, of Aboriginals in Australian society, of old people in retirement villages—engages as well. The various sad backstory details about old deaths, betrayals, and other wounds are teased out slowly and patiently, but that momentum is no greater than the more uplifting one: the unforeseen, truly magical opening of possibilities for growth, change, reconciliation, happiness.

A really fine, deeply intelligent book with so much to think about and so much unexpected hope.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947793-08-8

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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