An earnest and mostly successful attempt to humanize Hollywood.

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WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT CHARLIE OUTLAW

A newly famous actor is kidnapped and his fading-actress girlfriend re-evaluates their connection in Stewart’s latest novel (The New Neighbor, 2015, etc.).

Charlie Outlaw, ascendant TV star—and yes, that's his real name—has made a fatal romantic gaffe: Asked by reporters if his longtime girlfriend, Josie Lamar, is the love of his life, he gives, from what is perhaps an excess of zeal, the precisely wrong answer: "Yes!...So far." The relationship blows up, and Charlie retreats to an unnamed tropical island far from the artifice of Hollywood. Almost immediately, he is kidnapped by activists protesting overdevelopment—and, surprisingly, not because they know who he is. Meanwhile, a shellshocked Josie, having passed age 40, that dangerous precipice for actresses, phones it in, doing guest spots, a sitcom, and a fan convention. As her career continues its downward spiral from her long-past glory days as TV action heroine Bronwyn Kyle, her increasingly frantic texts to Charlie go unreturned. She has no idea where he is but assumes he’s ghosting her. Such is the setup of Stewart’s thoughtful study of two Hollywood denizens who take their craft as actors seriously; so seriously that exhortations from Stanislavsky (among other acting gurus) not only precede each section, but inform how Charlie and Josie live their lives, even in extremis—while confined to a car trunk, Charlie contemplates the contrast between acted emotional response and real panic. The chapters alternate between Charlie's and Josie's stories, but the narrative voice which swoops into and around the psyches of all the characters, however minor, is old-school omniscient, saying things like “Let’s leave him there, poor Charlie....” Stewart varies the lengths of her sentences to achieve an unstudied lyricism and cadence. As the kidnappers betray their incompetence, which renders them no less dangerous, and Josie considers a flirtation with her former co-star Max, the meditations on acting, while fascinating in their own right, distract more and more from the motivation and behavior of Josie and Charlie as protagonists of this book, not of their latest scripts.

An earnest and mostly successful attempt to humanize Hollywood.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1434-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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