A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.”

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Homo Superiors

Fields’ (Countrycide: Stories, 2014, etc.) latest novel offers a sympathetic look at a pair of murderers.

The author recasts one of the most infamous cases of the 20th century and brings it into the modern era, replacing the deluded Chicago-based killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb of the 1920s with present-day alter egos Noah Kaplan and Ray Klein. Noah is a shy, brainy 18-year-old, nervous about his sexuality and mad for bird-watching. His classmate Ray, a budding sociopath, idolizes Friedrich Nietzsche and dreams of becoming an Übermensch, or superior man: “we’d be seeing colors we don’t even know are around us, understanding time the way it really is, and not this day/night/harvest season animalistic calculating we’ve been doing so far,” he tells Noah. Ray, though heterosexual, accommodates Noah’s crush on him in exchange for Noah’s collaboration in some very bad ideas: “Ray could be a bit of a user. Noah knew that, and knew that he liked being used by Ray because it netted him more time in the boy’s presence.” Ray soon drags Noah along for excursions into theft, arson, and, eventually, murder. The real-life Leopold and Loeb confessed to choosing a 14-year-old boy, taking him off the street into their car, and laboriously chiseling his head apart. Fields has done her research: her own book ends abruptly with Ray and Noah cruising through their own Chicago neighborhood, armed with “a heavy chisel with the blade taped up for bludgeoning.” It was a wise move on the author’s part to end her novel just at the moment when no amount of work could make readers feel sympathy toward poor, misguided Noah. As it stands, however, she’s acquitted herself as a modern-day Clarence Darrow, creating as compelling a brief for the defense as Noah Kaplan (or Nathan Leopold) could possibly hope to have. She writes so arrestingly of thwarted desire and social awkwardness that readers may briefly believe themselves to be inside Noah’s own skin. Overall, it’s a thoroughly unsettling book.

A well-researched reimagining of what was once called “the crime of the century.” 

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-626-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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