An intoxicatingly unique literary voice that demands further attention.

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THE OLD WORLD DIES

In Jarrard’s (Cognac, 2008, etc.) satire, a prodigious artist and a multifarious cast of characters navigate their way through an unsettling urban landscape.

Paris is crumbling. Murderous gangs of teenage girls prowl the streets, and citizens are bracing themselves for a catastrophic civil collapse. Théo Carnot is a painter of nudes who wants to emerge from the shadow of his uncle Raymond, a distinguished watercolorist who recently died. Roland Jean-Marie Aymé is a taxi driver who’s bedazzled by the beauty of his partner, Marina, a “black-eyed creature from Mexico” with a beauty that’s almost “beyond believing.” Then there’s John Green, a suave, if overly bold, American who casually says that he owns a couple of paintings “by that fellow Monet, and I think one by his friend, almost the same name.” These characters intermingle with a vast, diverse network of other people in a dreamlike swirl. There is a plot here, punctuated by adventure and romance, but locating it is akin to discovering the eye of a hurricane. Part of the joy of the book is in forcing one’s way through what initially appear to be relentless, fragmented images and thoughts in order to understand its central structure and how its characters fit together. The language often apes the moodily introspective monologues of 1950s French art-house films: “Do I look like another man? / The man I know, and there is this improvement. / Roland runs his hand over his head. / Younger? / And older. Both. There is this balance. It’s interesting.” The surreal elements, as when artists find themselves wandering in the Pyrenees looking for light, are reminiscent of André Breton’s Nadja (1928). But it’s all deliciously tongue-in-cheek. It’s a challenge to turn a page without finding an example of Jarrard’s inimitably observant approach to prose: “She had wanted to go out of the station and see Basseville for herself, this place where girl murderers come from, but everything is dark and smoky in the beyond and the high-rises stand like grave markers of a race of giants who died in the crepuscule.”

An intoxicatingly unique literary voice that demands further attention.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-976725-84-5

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Lune de Ville

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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