An ambitious debut is bogged down in banalities and too-cute narrative tricks.

READ REVIEW

THE WAITING ROOM

The daughter of Holocaust survivors contends with present-day violence in Israel and Palestine.

When Dina wakes up one morning to radio warnings of a possible terrorist attack, she’s both worried and surprised: normally Haifa, her home, doesn’t see much violence. Dina is a doctor as well as the mother of a young boy, with a baby on the way. She’s afraid to let her son go off to school, but what else can she do? She kisses her son and husband goodbye and heads off to work. Kaminsky (Stitching Things Together, 2012, etc.) is also, like Dina, a doctor. She’s an evocative storyteller, and she’s sensitive to the intersections between physical and emotional pain and the way that memory intrudes upon daily reality. But Kaminsky may have bitten off more than she can chew in her first novel. This isn’t just a story about contemporary violence in Israel and Palestine. Dina is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. After enduring life in Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, her mother and father fled to Australia, where they raised their daughter. Reared on her mother’s stories of horror and war, Dina can’t seem to escape violence, no matter how far she flees. She spends much of the novel, which takes place over the course of a day, bickering with the ghost of her mother. As she drives to work or to her son’s school or to the shoemaker to fix a broken heel, her mother’s ghost tries to hold court. “Did I tell you how we slept in the same wooden bunk all those nights in Bergen-Belsen?” she will say. “You need to know these things, Dina.” But Dina is impatient and busy. “Not now, mother. I have to get back to work,” she says. “We can talk about this later.” Eventually, as the violence in her mother’s past begins to converge with the violence in Haifa, Dina is forced to contend with her mother. But their bickering seems more precious than moving, and it becomes tiresome. Then, Kaminsky’s prose is clotted with mundane details that detract from the heart of the novel. These asides—about putting on makeup, purchasing apples, etc.—are not only distracting, but they’re also boring, and they slow down the narrative. Dina’s story might have benefited from a little less schtick and a little more honest reckoning.

An ambitious debut is bogged down in banalities and too-cute narrative tricks.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-249047-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more