A poignant parody of media blather, modern romance, and mangled justice, with sci-fi accents.

Dystortions: 100 Hues of Purple

MYSTERY, MURDER, AND LOVE IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE

A novel explores extraterrestrial love in a topsy-turvy world.

In her latest book, Pell (Who’s Your Daddy, Baby?, 2012) graduates from romantic satire to sci-fi (with a healthy dose of romantic satire). Amethyst Adele “Addy” McCrory is a lonely, brilliant, brassy ex–TV reporter with a murder rap and an appointment with an electric chair named Old Sparkey. Prior to the gunplay that landed her behind bars, Addy and a hunky lawyer named Sean Michael O’Malibul had shared “heart-pumping lust, combined with mind-melding intellect.” But all is not right in their world in 2503 “on a planet called Malaprop, strikingly similar to a planet Malapropians would come to know through garbled, distorted radio transmissions as Hearth.” Malaprop is a backward world, full of sideways slogans, a retrograde justice system, tribes at war, and a scarifying history. It is a world, in other words, very much like Earth. There, Addy muses—for roughly 100 pages—on the tangled histories of Malaprop and Hearth (and Hearth’s holy book, an amusingly and disturbingly garbled version of Earth’s own sacred texts called The Word: The Book of Nirvana, a popular recording of which was first performed by “the punkish unfamiliar young apostle Kurt”). As with most histories, alternative histories, or historical satires, details pile up here but characters don’t stick around. Once readers reach the present, roughly halfway through the novel, they learn why Addy has been imprisoned. They are told of Mandy MacBeth, she of the “double chin that collapsed into her neck and could flatten the sex drive of any normal healthy male,” her persecution of Addy, her lust for Sean, and the comeuppance she eventually receives. The novel is enormously fun to read, filled with jokes and wry asides about the recognizable madness of a planet so like Earth. The levels of reality are so tangled here that readers trying to puzzle out just what happens at the end, when Addy may or may not have the chance at a new life, may be mildly frustrated by the deliberate ambiguity of the closing pages. But for Pell, plot was never the point: this is a wide-ranging satire, not a narrowly focused one, and the pleasure of the author’s voice—combined with the bounty of her imagination—makes the moments reading this book feel like time well spent.

A poignant parody of media blather, modern romance, and mangled justice, with sci-fi accents. 

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61296-731-8

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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