An odd hybrid of fiction and well-known facts, mixing several points of view, none too successfully. And frequent quotes...

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STILL SHE HAUNTS ME

Pop pundit Roiphe (The Morning After, 1993, etc.) switches genres for a fictional account of the Reverend Charles Dodgson's obsession with Alice Liddell—and it's not exactly Wonderland.

The shy Oxford don gets along much better with children, especially girls, than with adults. He's unmarried, unable to come to terms with adult sexuality, still disgusted by his memories of his ever-pregnant mother’s perpetually swollen belly, the visible evidence of his father's lust. Socially inept and cursed with an incurable stutter, Dodgson isn’t much of a teacher, but the languorous young aristocrats he instructs in the finer points of logic and mathematics don't really care. All in all, he seems harmless enough, and the socially ambitious wife of the new dean sees nothing wrong with his friendship with her three young daughters. But she's puzzled: Why is the unmarried, somewhat effeminate young man so drawn to Alice, the least conventionally pretty of her offspring? The answer is hinted at in letters and extracts from Dodgson's diaries: his attraction is powerfully sexual, worshipfully loving: Alice is his heart's desire. He represses such thoughts as best he can but is plagued by nightmares in which much of the surreal imagery of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass first appears. He begins to photograph Alice in typically Victorian poses as a beggar girl, a garden nymph, and so forth, and falls more deeply in love with her each passing day. The pivotal moment: Dodgson at last dares to photograph Alice naked and is nearly crazed with erotic excitement as he watches her prance around, glorying in the power of her nudity. He later presents Alice with the pictures in secret, but Mrs. Liddell finds them. From then on, Dodgson is forever banned from all contact with the Liddell family.

An odd hybrid of fiction and well-known facts, mixing several points of view, none too successfully. And frequent quotes from Dodgson’s tenderly passionate diary entries only underscore the deficiencies in Roiphe’s own style, which is noticeably contemporary in tone—and unconvincing.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-33527-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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