Flawed, but commendably ambitious and stuffed with ideas—many of them not well developed, but inspiring hope for a more...



Cooperstown, N.Y., and its most famous native son provide first-time novelist Groff with much of the grist for this sprawling tale of a young woman searching for her father.

In The Pioneers, James Fenimore Cooper rechristened his (and Groff’s) hometown as Templeton; she not only adopts the name, but grafts her protagonist onto the family tree of a character from the novel, Judge Marmaduke Temple. Grad student Willie Upton slinks back into Templeton in the summer of 2002 just as the corpse of a mysterious, 50-foot creature surfaces in Lake Glimmerglass. She’s had a disastrous affair with a married professor and isn’t sure she can go back to Stanford, Willie tells her feisty single mother. Vi, who always claimed not to know which member of her San Francisco commune knocked her up in 1973, has a surprise of her own. In truth, Willie’s father lives in Templeton and doesn’t even know he has a daughter. Vi won’t tell Willie his name, but (implausibly) drops a big hint. Like Vi, Willie’s dad is descended from Judge Temple, who apparently scattered illegitimate children across the 18th-century landscape. As Willie hunts through old documents for clues to her parentage, the voices of generations of Templeton residents mingle with those of such archetypal Cooper creations as Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook in a narrative that winds through 250 years of American history. The secrets uncovered include murder, arson, poisonous intra-family rivalries and the exploitation of slaves and Native Americans. The leviathan pulled out of the lake seems less of a monster than some of Templeton’s respectable founders. Willie and other contemporary citizens are far nicer; readers will be pleased when the likable heroine meets her father, reconciles with Vi and forms a tentative new relationship with a decent guy. But there seem to be two novels here, and they don’t fit together terribly well.

Flawed, but commendably ambitious and stuffed with ideas—many of them not well developed, but inspiring hope for a more disciplined second effort from this talented newcomer.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2225-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Voice/Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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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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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.


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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