Consistently lukewarm plot and painfully tidy conclusion, but Junior’s character is strongly written, and Wells’s sense of...

JUNIOR’S LEG

A mildly interesting concoction from the author of Meely LaBauve (2000), this one featuring a down-and-out roustabout, a Mafia murder, and true love in the heart of a hard man, all of it fed through spicy regional dialect and local coloration.

As we meet Joseph “Junior” Guidry, he lies flat-out broke, drunk, and in despair after losing his leg in a Gulf of Mexico oil rig accident. He successfully sued the oil company with the help of his lawyer, Syd Shainburg, and won a $150,000 settlement, but Junior blew it on drinks, women, and cars. Now he’s waiting for something to come along that will change his situation. Through the bayou to Junior’s trailer in the Great Catahoula Swamp comes Iris Mary Parfait, who imposes herself into his life—cooking, cleaning, and slowly healing him—but promises to stay out of his “business.” The agreement doesn’t hold, and soon Iris reveals she is on the run from a bar owner with Mob connections. While tending to Rocko Marchante’s ailing mother, Iris saw the sexual terrors he inflicted on his women and was nearly subjected to them herself before she managed to injure Rocko and escape his horrific household. Just as Junior is starting to feel her pain and sharing some of his hurt with her, a “podnuh” shows up with news that Rocko has put a $100,000 bounty on Iris’s head. She’s captured, but Junior rescues her in a violent encounter that leaves Rocko and his men desperately wounded. Lawyer Shainburg shows up again, pulls some strings, does some research, and eventually brings down Rocko and the local Sheriff Ervil Geaux, leaving Junior and Iris free to marry and come to terms with their traumatic lives.

Consistently lukewarm plot and painfully tidy conclusion, but Junior’s character is strongly written, and Wells’s sense of place confers a pleasing authority to his Cajun-style prose.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-50526-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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