An uneven novel that delivers compelling racing scenes but underdeveloped characters.

Flat Track

A STORY ABOUT COMING OF AGE, LOVE AND ABOVE ALL, RACING

Mexis’ debut novel offers an ode to flat-track motorcycle racing.

Soon after Gunner Adams was born, he was abandoned by his father; he was raised by his alcoholic mother in Indiana until her death when he was 12. The Gunner that readers see for the majority of the novel is a troubled 23-year-old living in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he helps his uncle fix motorcycles. He’s also an especially talented flat-track motorcyclist, and the sections of the novel in which Gunner muses about racing, or actually races, have vivid imagery and expert insight. In this way, the novel’s subtitle—“A story about coming of age, love, and above all, racing”—sets up a hierarchy that proves to be accurate. However, the remainder of the story suffers from clichéd plot points and awkward dialogue. At an early race, for example, Gunner meets Joya, who works for the flat-track racing organization. Joya falls in love with him immediately, and, coincidentally, she happens to know Gunner’s runaway father. Before Joya and Gunner head to the biggest race of the year, the Indy Mile, she takes Gunner to meet him. The two men trade the requisite displays of anger and guilt before Gunner receives a helpful racing tip from his father—a former racer himself. When other conflicts arise, they primarily take place off the track. At one point, energy-drink guru and racing sponsor Tom Allen bribes Uncle Jim to sabotage a particular racer’s bike in a way that leads to his disqualification; later, he burns down Jim’s garage “for fun.” Unfortunately, Tom is so thinly drawn that his actions, and their relationship to Gunner, never feel very meaningful to readers. Later, when he becomes a factor at the Indy Mile, his presence feels strangely disconnected from the rest of the story.

An uneven novel that delivers compelling racing scenes but underdeveloped characters.    

Pub Date: April 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1922204417

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Vivid Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2013

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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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