A sweeping planter-slave tale in the antebellum South, as seen through the prism of 21st-century sensibilities and...

Plum Orchard

A NOVEL OF CUMBERLAND ISLAND

A Civil War–era historical saga that chronicles a couple as they go from Cumberland Island, Georgia, to Groton, Connecticut, by 2011 Georgia Author of the Year McCash (Almost to Eden, 2010).

In antebellum Georgia, beautiful Elisabeth (aka “Zabette”) is the descendant of generations of slave owners and comely slaves. Raised primarily by her white grandmother, French-American Marguerite Bernardey, Zabette straddles the two lifestyles. Aware of her granddaughter’s delicate position, Marguerite exacts a promise from her white neighbor, Robert Stafford, that he’ll prevent Zabette from being sold after her death. Indeed, Stafford takes Zabette into his home to live there as his wife, long before her grandmother dies. A successful planter and businessman, he refuses to allow their six children to be raised as slaves, instead sending them to Connecticut where they can pass as white and live as free people. Eventually, Zabette joins them, while Robert remains in the South, growing increasingly bitter over his inability to possess all of Cumberland Island. Later, when his Southern fortunes are decimated by the Civil War, he allows his disappointment to cloud his relationship with Zabette. This novel transcends what could have been a clichéd tale of a master/slave affair, instead showing the truly tenuous position of African-Americans in the South before and after the war. McCash shows how Zabette’s intelligence and devotion to her children cause her to question Robert’s decisions, and how her long residence in the North educates her on issues that her upbringing never made her think about. In contrast, Robert evolves from a socially awkward, sympathetic character to a heartless, autocratic father to a sad, embittered old man. His deep resentment of the neighboring Cumberland Island planter, Phineas Nightingale, seems unwarranted, and his eventual cruelty toward Zabette inexcusable. Minor inconsistencies in the timeline—Robert is 69 in 1851, but only 67 in 1858—and a lack of character development among Zabette’s younger three children only slightly mar this otherwise well-composed novel.

A sweeping planter-slave tale in the antebellum South, as seen through the prism of 21st-century sensibilities and sensitivities.

Pub Date: April 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9844354-8-7

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Twin Oaks Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2015

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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