Dark energy disrupts domestic tranquility in a pleasant sci-fi diversion with a family-hour vibe.



A college physicist uses computer technology to enter a parallel world in which she has a great family and an improved personal life—but also telekinetic superpowers that put all their lives at risk.

Smith (The Conservation of Luck, 2017, etc.), a physicist, here more or less asks: What is real life anyway? Thus she launches a series starring heroine Chloe Carsen, who is also Chloe Phillipson. Chloe C. is a science researcher/instructor at a university in Missoula, Montana, using virtual-reality technology to spend more and more of her time spectating on the goings-on in an alternative universe. In that cosmos, there exists a Missoula in which—as Chloe Phillipson—she is still a physics teacher, but one with a great “househusband,” Aidan, and two young sons, Trevor and Zach. Chloe C. realizes ruefully that her counterpart is a considerably happier and more fulfilled version of herself. But then odd things happen in the Phillipson household, as the two sons show telekinetic abilities (including levitating themselves), apparently inherited from their mom. It seems that Chloe P. can do “magic” as well, and it may be traceable to a dark-matter experiment gone wrong 15 years earlier and/or the Phillipsons unexpectedly being the next stage in human evolution. They try to keep their “dark energy” superpowers a secret, but ubiquitous cellphone cameras and social media put them in peril. Smith’s narrative voice, dominated by dialogue, is easy and brisk (rather like the one Ira Levin used for his female-paranoia masterworks, Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives), and even the science speculation comes in lightweight packets. Overall, the material reads like the kind of adventure novels that, in earlier eras, inspired Disney properties (especially Escape to Witch Mountain), but with some R-rated language and mistrust of authority. The big question for the reader is whether alt-reality Chloe C.’s eavesdropping on all this via VR is somehow creating the bizarre circumstances for the Phillipsons. The book’s concluding gimmick with parallel worlds feels like a distraction and not really necessary. But some readers may find it sets up the open-ended finale on a properly tantalizing what if? note.

Dark energy disrupts domestic tranquility in a pleasant sci-fi diversion with a family-hour vibe.

Pub Date: May 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9861350-8-8

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Quarky Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

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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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