A cerebral, heartwarming story that proves that even grown-ups can face growing pains.

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THE SAND GAME

In Schiff’s (The First Supper, 2014) novel, the three adult Gerson siblings, devastated by the loss of their parents, examine their own lives and get a healthy dose of self-discovery.

Elaina Beth “Laine” Gerson, the eldest sister in her family, is a prosecutor whose sharp tongue has proven more successful in lawsuits than in love. (The newspapers call her the “wicked bitch of the East.”) She’s been unable to win the affection of a nice Jewish man, like her late parents would have wanted. The problem, she thinks, is that Jewish men find her too familiar; for example, when she meets would-be suitor Peter Goodman, she describes his reaction: “It was a look that flatly stated ‘I know you. From Hebrew school, from my teen tour to Israel, from the Chinese restaurant I go to every Christmas.’ ” After another failed attempt at romance and an emotional breakdown, she finds that a Gentile man may hold the key to her heart. Meanwhile, middle child and technology whiz Michael is lukewarm about the latest in a string of Gentile girlfriends, whom he dates as a form of rebellion against his Jewish identity. Patricia Lewis, whom he nicknames “Patty-cake,” has been expecting a proposal any day now—and she’s in for a disappointment. Youngest sister Rachel gives birth to twins, but she firmly takes a back seat in this narrative, often as the moderator between her two stronger-willed siblings. Schiff unifies the storylines with references to the titular Sand Game—an annual endurance competition in which Laine and Michael bury each other in sand. This smart romantic comedy is the second novel that Schiff has adapted from one of her plays, so it contains more repartee and introspection than fast-paced action. The Gersons’ internal conflicts about their Jewish heritage feature heavily in the narrative, but the basic human need to be loved is the most prominent theme. The author makes Laine and Michael both sympathetic and fallible, and she sharply defines the secondary characters, as well; Glinda (nee Glenn) Armstrong, a transgender waitress who floats in and out of Laine’s life, is a particularly memorable figure. Some turns of phrase are simply magical: “Rays of light...bounced around the city like Mexican jumping beans, turning dull green park benches into emerald thrones and humdrum taxicabs into lemon drop carriages.”

A cerebral, heartwarming story that proves that even grown-ups can face growing pains.

Pub Date: July 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5349-8861-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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