Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing.

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THE SOUND OF BUILDING COFFINS

Cursed lives revived and cleansed by a 1906 New Orleans flood.

Maistros’ characters represent the dregs of the old New Orleans underclass, Creoles of mixed-race heritage. In 1891, the habitués of a local gin joint attend the exorcism of a djab, or voodoo demon, possessing Dominick, infant son of Antonio, who has just been lynched by an anti-immigrant mob. This demon was originally unleashed in 1853, when Malvina, a voodoo priestess, summoned it to wreak revenge on Marcus Nobody Special, a gravedigger who had impregnated and abandoned her niece Maria. Noonday Morningstar, a widowed preacher, defies divine warnings to preside over the exorcism, and pays with his life. Also present is Doctor Jack, a sawbones and abortionist, and nine-year-old Typhus (Noonday’s children are all named after diseases), whose heart is gripped by his father’s ghostly hand. Dominick grows into trickster and troublemaker Jim Jam Jump, spelling trouble for the surviving Morningstars, including his partner-in-crime Dropsy. The tangled fortunes of Noonday’s progeny are the closest thing this novel has to a unifying device. Malaria gives up singing ambitions to mother her orphaned siblings. Diphtheria has clawed her way up from “the cribs,” low-rent fleshpots, to the relative luxe of the city’s best bordello. Her son West, whose neglectful father Buddy becomes the first jazz cornet man, is obsessed with buttons. Diphtheria elected not to abort him with Doctor Jack’s toxic tea. Typhus, Doctor Jack’s assistant, “rebirths” aborted fetuses by reshaping them into Mississippi catfishes. Doctor Jack urges Typhus, now a man forever trapped in a nine-year-old’s body, to concentrate his unmet romantic yearnings on the photograph of a mysterious beauty. Marcus fishes tirelessly, awaiting an encounter with one special catfish, his lost son. The spirit realm, which in Maistros’ world resides in water, intrudes upon the living with plenty of irreverent and poignant commentary. As the great flood approaches, the Morningstar body count mounts, and self-effacing Malaria will be the family’s last hope.

Riotous, undisciplined and disjointed, yet mesmerizing.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59264-255-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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