Bright, engaging, dexterous literary entertainment for everyone, though with many special treats and pleasures for Janeites.

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THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB

The estimable Fowler (Sister Noon, 2001, etc.) offers a real delight as she follows the lives of six members of a book club.

Not a moment passes without its interest as we meet Jocelyn (who raises Rhodesian Ridgebacks); her best friend since girlhood, Sylvia (née Sanchez); Sylvia’s daughter Allegra, an artist who’s now 30 and a lesbian; high-school French teacher, Prudie, 28 and flighty; the talkative Bernadette, turning 67 and the oldest; and the only man, Grigg Harris, unmarried, in his 40s, new to the neighborhood—and a science-fiction buff who’s never read Jane Austen. Month by month, the group meets at one house or another to discuss the agreed-upon book, and all the while Fowler keeps things moving with a fine and inventive dexterity, lingering in the present at one moment, dipping way back into the adolescent years of Jocelyn and Sylvia at another (Sylvia marries Jocelyn’s boyfriend; Jocelyn remains single), sometimes touching on the life of Austen herself, then popping back to escort us through Grigg’s plain but fascinating history (he had three sisters, no brother), or to let us in on what makes Prudie flighty, how many husbands Bernadette had, or what happened when Allegra jumped from an airplane. Much of the charm lies in the book discussions themselves—never dry, ever revealing, always on the psychological mark—and much indeed also lies in the many perfect Austen-esque moments, situations, misunderstandings, recognitions, and reversals that make up the web and woof of the novel. We learn early that after 30 years of perfect marriage Sylvia’s husband has left her. That event, in one way or another, will touch on everyone, and before the end there’ll be a positively lovely re-sorting of relationships, places, and positions, all done in today’s most perfect emulation of Jane that you could ever imagine.

Bright, engaging, dexterous literary entertainment for everyone, though with many special treats and pleasures for Janeites.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-15161-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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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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