A sincere journey of transformation that successfully balances politics and storytelling with heartwarming results.

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Sally Field Can Play The Transsexual

OR, I WAS CURSED BY POLLY HOLLIDAY

In Smith’s novel, a young man finds that it’s time to grow up and change his reckless behavior after he loses his dear friend to AIDS.

David Mathews has come into a good-sized inheritance, including a Manhattan loft and a beach house in the Hamptons. But this sudden wealth doesn’t stop him from hustling—the sexual currency he’s grown accustomed to in New York. It was hustling that introduced him to the man who left him a fortune: Robert, a charming man who profiled David in his magazine and took him under his wing. One of David’s habits is imagining the characters in his memories as famous people, from Matt Dillon to Didi Conn; he does this instead of facing his real recollections, ever since he ran away from Arkansas as a teenager. David still grieves for Robert, who died of AIDS, but despite his proximity to the devastating disease, he still has unprotected sex. Indeed, it becomes David’s thrill and secret—one he continues to keep even after Robert appears to him as a ghost, acting as a chatty sidekick while David navigates the ups and downs of his life. When David’s estranged family calls him home to see his dying mother, Robert’s ghost comes along, for better or worse. Once there, David meets Chris, an artist who has stricter boundaries regarding safe sex. Before David’s mother dies, he learns a secret that brings his real memories back to him, and casts his sexual behavior in a different light. It will take the kindness of a transgender nurse, and Chris’ convictions as a gay man and an artist, for David to become the man that Robert always knew he was. The political landscape of the novel is commendably and easily woven into the characters’ interactions, while never overpowering the plot. Mentorship and love are beautifully illustrated in David’s relationships with both Robert and Chris. The appearance of Robert’s ghost allows readers to understand the complexities of David’s grief. The story is a bit slow to start, and each chapter is distractingly and confusingly accompanied by a dated list, which doesn’t match the chapter’s time frame. Also, although the characters are well-drawn, they aren’t a huge departure from LGBT characters readers may have met before. Overall, however, this is an ambitious novel that delivers redemption with humor and heart. 

A sincere journey of transformation that successfully balances politics and storytelling with heartwarming results.

Pub Date: May 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0996023320

Page Count: 294

Publisher: PressLess, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 10, 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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