Stories that are irreverent just as often as they’re unnerving—and sometimes a bit of both.

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PHANTASIZER

TALES OF DREAD AND THE FANTASTIC

Hemmings’ (You Never Die in Wholes, 2012, etc.) collection offers a grab bag of short, eccentric tales, from the truly disturbing to the comical and even gleefully bizarre.

Readers will know what they’re getting into with the opening story, “The Man with the Crocodile Eyes.” It features 17-year-old Carly willingly basking in the warmth of a Cadillac owned by the reptilian-eyed titular character with a crooked arm who, as it happens, may not be the most outlandish part of the tale. Subsequent stories boast a sci-fi flavor (game programmer Oolong tries rescuing his virtual friend, Pilaf, in “Digisolution”) or suspense-driven alternative history (“Who Killed Sal Mineo?” follows the Rebel Without a Cause actor in his final days, leading up to his murder). Hemmings’ prior credits include works of prose and poetry, and much of the collection reads like vignettes more than fully developed stories—so he easily fits 36 into a relatively short book. “Mingus Hard,” for example, is rife with otherworldly details. An agency enlists Mingus to locate a bomb in the city, but lyrical descriptions make it difficult to decipher real from imaginary or metaphorical: Mingus “is kidnapped by a woman hard-wired to Electra-chain need.…She loves to intimidate by sketching hypothetical lives with accusative tones.” Likewise, many of the characters are wonderfully kooky, including dolls in “Women of Straw” or the animated at odds with Still Life in “Still World.” The best, however, is Mr. BubbleHead, highlighted in a series of misadventures, in which he braves a ride with a reckless cabbie (“Mr. BubbleHead Has an Exciting Day”) and, well…(“Mr. BubbleHead Loses His Head”). In spite of any peculiarities, a few stories are endearingly sincere. In “The Birds of Averrone,” for one, the narrator prays to “a select breed of air dwellers” to save him from his abusive father. Similarly, “The Killing Floor,” about contestants enduring a grueling 12-day dance marathon, is surprisingly delightful in its focus on just-matched couple Maggie and decidedly older Tom. The closing “Another Zombie Tale” encapsulates the collection: the recognizable (zombies) with the newfangled (waiting and hoping the zombie outbreak will merely pass).

Stories that are irreverent just as often as they’re unnerving—and sometimes a bit of both.

Pub Date: July 25, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Hammer & Anvil Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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