A taut, emotional tale that portends an even deeper exploration of this world in the sequel.

THE DESIRE CARD

A high-stakes thriller focuses on a banker’s painful journey.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it can purchase liquor, prescription drugs, and a Fifth Avenue apartment with a Central Park view. For Harrison Stockton, that’s almost the same thing. But getting fired from his investment banking firm seems like rock bottom, especially when home offers only cold comfort from his kids, Brenton and Gracie, whom he barely knows after years of long nights away, and his wife, Helene, for whom he’s ceased to be good enough. But he quickly finds himself in the hospital with liver disease, one problem he truly can’t buy his way out of. With this setup alone, the novel could have come across as a simple parable, as Harrison gets his just deserts for taking his life of privilege and the wealth of possibilities for happiness for granted until it’s too late. Nevertheless, even in the early sections of the tale, Harrison is surprisingly sympathetic. While his “extracurricular activities” certainly will raise readers’ eyebrows, the vivid portrait here is not of an evil man but one torn between striving for his own advancement and providing for his family until a haze of pain-killing vice takes everything from him. Or almost everything. As part of his severance package, Harrison receives the titular Desire Card, offering “any wish fulfilled for the right price.” When his last hopes dry up and he’s cheated out of a black market liver, the Desire Card is all he has left. But the price for such a request is all too high, and the shadowy cabal behind the Desire Card begins threatening people he cares about. Harrison must make the ultimate choice between everything he could want and the people to whom he owes so much. Goldberg (The Mentor, 2017, etc.) delivers a thoughtful examination of human selfishness in this series opener. The moving story is a modern-day devil’s bargain, twisting and turning through an understandable fight for survival and a more complex view of the morality of a system where anything can be had for a price, a more literal and explicit version of the landscape readers live in each day.

A taut, emotional tale that portends an even deeper exploration of this world in the sequel.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-912526-35-2

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Fahrenheit Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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