A poignantly written, unflinchingly realistic account of war.

DIG OR DIE

A historical novel chronicles an American soldier’s march across France during World War I. 

Emmet “Judy” Redding enlists in the Army in order to play baseball, but then war breaks out in Europe. He’s sent to be trained by seasoned French forces in eastern France, a corporal in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, part of the American Expeditionary Force sent to halt German advancement. After training, Judy participates in the AEF’s first major offensive action in Cantigny in May 1918 and makes his way to Meuse-Argonne by October of the same year, shortly before the war’s conclusion. He experiences his share of amorous rendezvous. In Paris, he falls in love with Jeanne Trevost, a Frenchwoman, and intends to marry her. But their union faces two obstacles. Judy learns from her brother, Rene, that she is promised in marriage to another, a matter of family arrangement. Also, Jeanne works as a spy for France and is captured, leaving Judy praying she survives her ordeal. Debut author Redline served in France as part of the AEF and was a decorated soldier. As the book’s editor and the author’s daughter, Redline Coopey, points out in the introduction, this novel is just as much memoir as it is fiction. The novel is mostly written in the first person from Judy’s perspective and details not only the brutality and deprivation of combat, but also the camaraderie of the soldiers.  Redline captures the savagery of war while avoiding maudlin sentimentality or valorization of the killing fields: “We were thin, emaciated, tattered and torn. If addressed, we didn’t respond, for the effort was too great. We had only curses for those who might fawn upon us and glorify our achievement, but we took and held the town.” The author doesn’t shy away from confronting the moral complexity of war. In one memorably heartbreaking scene, Judy consoles a fellow soldier who raped a woman. The soldier roils with regret, and while horrified on behalf of the victim, Judy also feels great sympathy for his friend, knowing how the pain of loneliness and fear can disfigure the soul. Further, Redline portrays the romances between American soldiers and Frenchwomen with considerable nuance; all were in search of some respite from the war. The predicament of the women is especially bleak since a generation of prospective spouses was sacrificed to repel the Germans. Redline’s prose is sure-footed and powerful, and he often allows Judy to wander into philosophical reverie, thoughtfully contemplating the grimness of his plight. The war’s toll is achingly depicted: Judy initially has reservations about alcohol, but its regular consumption numbed him to his own distress. 

A poignantly written, unflinchingly realistic account of war.

Pub Date: March 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9979351-0-3

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Fox Hollow Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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