Mostly harmless fun with a large cast of zany characters and many chaotic situations.

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IN A WHIRL OF DELUSION

A comical look at the world of Southern drag queen pageants.

Greenwell (Who the Hell is Rachel Wells?, 2013) opens his entertaining novel with its protagonist and narrator, Chester Davis, pleasantly sandwiched in bed between Zac Efron and Ryan Reynolds. Sadly for Chester, his fantasy sequence is the result of a concussion-induced hallucination. The author then takes us back approximately one year when the waiflike Chester escapes at the age of 21 from the trailer park where he lives with his abusive, homophobic grandmother outside of Birmingham, Alabama. (For most of the book, Chester goes by the name of his stage persona, Daphne DeLight, and feminine pronouns are used.) To Greenwell’s credit, there is a lot of action packed into that year as an eclectic group of supporters at Club Diva helps Daphne hone her craft and pursue her ambitious goal of winning the title of Miss Gay Drag Queen Alabama. As boyfriends Sam and Mike, the first two characters to offer Daphne a helping hand, discuss her developmental issues and extreme social awkwardness, Sam objects to Mike’s use of the term “retarded.” Mike responds: “Okay…challenged, slow, low IQ, autistic, whatever the term. She can barely even read, for God’s sakes.” Greenwell constructs Daphne as the proverbial babe in the woods who requires frequent explanations. This may illuminate readers unfamiliar with certain subcultures; however, this technique slows down the narrative as Daphne interprets language literally, and readers wait for yet another explanation from a frazzled mentor. For instance, at one point, Sam compares Daphne to a young Elizabeth Taylor, then feels compelled to add: “Well, thinner, blonder, and younger…you do have blue eyes. Not violet, but blue. Close enough.” The use of this transparent device seems like a convoluted, awkward way to convey basic information like the protagonist’s eye color. Although the book contains a few stereotypes, racial and otherwise, it reaches a satisfying conclusion when Greenwell reveals the cause of Daphne’s concussion as well as the root of her social and academic difficulties.

Mostly harmless fun with a large cast of zany characters and many chaotic situations.

Pub Date: April 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-937627-24-9

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions

Review Posted Online: March 16, 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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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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