A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados.

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AMERICAN PAST TIME

Dancer Stonemason, a minor league pitcher, falls into a downward spiral in Joy’s debut novel.

This darkly nostalgic story is a study of an American family through good times and bad, engagingly set against major events from the 1950s to the ’70s, as issues of race simmer in the background. After pitching a perfect game, Dancer dreams of playing in the major leagues, but he never gets his chance due to a perpetually sore arm and the financial needs of his expanding family. He moves from his off-season job as a parts inspector at a Caterpillar plant to the company’s better-paying foundry, run by the Thackers, a father and son who are also members of the Ku Klux Klan. Joy vividly describes the workplace as a Dantean hell: “Once the furnace was fired up and the men started building molds, the air would be filled with carbon ash and fine black molding sand. The junk hung in the air and made everything look blurry, like a bad dream.” Stripped of his own dream, Dancer starts drinking and getting into fights; eventually, he gets arrested and becomes increasingly alienated from his wife and sons. Dancer’s older son Clayton, who once idolized him, grows to hate him, despite the fact that he’s just like Dancer in many ways. Meanwhile, Dede, Dancer’s wife, goes to work and has affairs but still helps her husband whenever he’s in trouble. Eventually, Dancer is taken in by a black milkman who’s a recovering alcoholic, a situation that eventually leads to a violent denouement and Dancer’s ultimate redemption. Overall, this novel is a natural for history buffs, filled with period details such as sting-ray bikes, Green Stamps, and the names of famous baseball players, including Spahn, Larsen, Mantle and Musial. However, it’s also an expertly written examination of the importance of dreams to the human psyche.

A well-crafted novel that will particularly appeal to sports and history aficionados.

Pub Date: April 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991665907

Page Count: 410

Publisher: Hark! New Era Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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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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