The near-omniscient narration perfectly suits this story, which often reads like a rueful but wry case study of nurture as...

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THE IRRESISTIBLE HENRY HOUSE

A “practice baby” grows up to be the most indifferent guy, in this multilayered new novel from Grunwald (Whatever Makes You Happy, 2005, etc.).

As the baby boom begins in 1946, fictional Wilton College in Pennsylvania works hard to prepare young women for that all important MRS. degree. It even provides a home economics “practice house,” where coeds can hone their mother craft by caring for an infant on loan from the local orphanage. Each foundling is surnamed House by decree of Wilton’s middle-aged, widowed and childless doyenne of domestic science, Martha Gaines. Three-month-old Henry, the current rental baby, is diapered, bathed and bottle-fed by alternating shifts of college students under Martha’s hypercritical supervision. Though she’s firmly wedded to the parenting wisdom of that era (e.g., babies must be trained, not indulged), Martha finds long-dormant maternal yearnings awakened by winsome Henry. Through guile and well-placed blackmail she adopts him, and he remains at Wilton under the care of successive practice mothers. Manipulating multiple moms teaches Henry to view women as interchangeable pushovers. Female demands—especially Martha’s—repel him. A talented artist, Henry finds a haven with his beatnik art teachers in boarding school, until the birth of their child displaces him. His birth mother Betty, now a Manhattan career girl, offers temporary asylum from Martha, then unceremoniously abandons him. He finds work in Hollywood as a Disney animator, painting penguins for Mary Poppins (another story about a mother substitute). Then he moves on to London at the height of the Swinging Sixties to help animate the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Henry is both irresistible and impervious to women other than his childhood friend Mary Jane, adept at the approach-avoidance game that is his Achilles’ heel. Then, one day Henry meets his narcissistic match in another former practice baby.

The near-omniscient narration perfectly suits this story, which often reads like a rueful but wry case study of nurture as nightmare.

Pub Date: March 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6300-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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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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