Morton’s finesse with family secrets increases with each novel.

THE SECRET KEEPER

A daughter refuses to let her mother take a grim secret to the grave.

In 1961, Laurel, a teenager sulking in a treehouse, sees her mother kill a man with a knife intended for her infant brother’s birthday cake. During the ensuing investigation, the police question Laurel, who leaves out a crucial detail. Just before her mother stabbed him, the man had said, “Hello, Dorothy. It’s been a long time.” Dorothy is cleared—the man is presumed to be a wanted pervert whom she killed in self-defense, and the Nicholson family life goes on as before, with Dorothy, husband Stephen and their five children enjoying life in their bucolic farmhouse. An early flashback reveals that Dorothy may have had a shady past, which induced her to flee London in 1941, at the urging of her friend Vivien, who was subsequently killed in the Blitz. In 2011, Dorothy is close to death. Laurel, now a famous actress in her 60s, embarks on a quest to learn the truth about the homicide. First, she learns that her mother’s victim, Henry Jenkins, had once been a prominent writer who fell from grace. Flashbacks from Dorothy’s POV and Laurel’s research reveal that during the war, Dorothy, whose family was killed by German bombs, attempts to befriend her fellow war-work volunteer, the somewhat aloof Vivien, an heiress who was also orphaned when a car crash claimed her parents and siblings in Australia. But Vivien is married to the controlling, jealousy-prone Jenkins, an author who’s also involved in intelligence work for the government. When Vivien inexplicably insults her, Dorothy assumes that slander from Vivien also caused Lady Gwendolyn, Dorothy’s late employer, to deny her a hoped-for inheritance. Together with her fiance, the talented and sensitive photographer Jimmy, Dorothy plots revenge in the form of blackmail, threatening to give Jenkins evidence of Vivien’s infidelity. Despite some improbable developments, the suspense mounts throughout, culminating in a shocking twist.

Morton’s finesse with family secrets increases with each novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5280-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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