A somewhat contrived but entertaining satire on the different ways of being right.

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THE FIRST SUPPER

A TALE OF TWO HOURS

In this droll comedy of manners, sparks fly over a prospective union of two very different conservative families.

When Amanda Worthington brings her latest boyfriend du jour, Brian Grace, home from college, her wealthy, Republican parents, Chuck and Libby, figure that her relationship with the earnest, hunky football player won’t last long. However, a tizzy erupts when Amanda announces that she’s pregnant and plans to marry Brian the next day. Brian is also a Republican, but to the worldly, fashionable, and socially liberal Worthingtons, he’s the wrong kind—a devout Christian who insists that abortion is out of the question and marriage is mandatory. Even worse, he comes from a down-at-the-heels, working-class family. As Chuck strategizes a way to use his money to quash both the wedding and the pregnancy, Libby reels at her ruined plans to make Amanda into an accomplished doctor. The arrival of Brian’s parents intensifies the clash: the Worthingtons are appalled by the Graces’ dowdy clothes, untoned physiques, zealous religiosity, and concealed firearm; the Graces, meanwhile, are scandalized by the Worthingtons’ arctic-white décor, nude statuary, gay chef, and disdain for biblical strictures. As the two families learn more about what divides them, their awkwardness shades toward open enmity—just in time for dinner. Schiff has adapted her novel from her play of the same name, and this fact shows in a certain staginess: the story takes place in a single afternoon and location, the dialogue telegraphs attitudes in efficient shorthand (“do you think he’s one of those…one of those Christians?”), the political schema is somewhat self-conscious, and the characters are stark enough to be legible from the back row. However, Schiff fleshes out these caricatures with plausible interior lives and unexpected nuances; Libby emerges as more than the shallow shopaholic she initially seems to be, and the Graces turn out to be at least as cosmopolitan and socially fluent as the Worthingtons, in their own way. Overall, Schiff’s well-paced prose style combines whip-smart repartée with a sharp, funny knack for social observation, and she manages to infuse psychological depth and emotional resonance into the kulturkampf.

A somewhat contrived but entertaining satire on the different ways of being right.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1505332179

Page Count: 170

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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