Although it ends on a half-heartedly optimistic note, the novel leaves a bitter aftertaste of unresolved anger.

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WHITE ELEPHANT

Idemitsu has written an autobiographical first novel about a young Japanese woman who comes to America to study and stays to marry, raise a child, and find her identity as a woman caught between two cultures.

The four daughters of extremely wealthy Japanese businessman Morimasa Morimoto grow up believing it is “their duty to devote themselves to him” although he and his wife, Sadako, pay them little attention. The eldest, smartest daughter, Hiroko, moves to New York promising to become a successful artist. The second and third daughters, sweet, pretty Eiko and the usually hostile Fusako, marry to please their father. While Idemitsu moves frequently into flashbacks to flesh out the stories of the individual Morimoto women and show the ways in which each is emotionally damaged, the novel primarily focuses on the evolution of introverted youngest daughter Sakiko. While attending college at UCLA in 1964, she meets Paul, an artist and teacher. When she becomes pregnant, she reluctantly has the baby to keep Paul in her life although she fears her family’s reaction. She marries Paul in a passive trance before the baby’s birth. Her sisters in Japan voice their disapproval, her mother doesn’t respond at all, but her father sends cash. Having a baby, Sakiko feels needed for the first time. She tries to navigate the seemingly hostile white American world while remembering various painful moments from her Japanese childhood, including her mother’s neglect, Fusako’s cruelty, and the instance of physical assault every coming-of-age story seems to require lately. Gradually she grows more independent (although family money means she's never at financial risk). Meanwhile, Paul’s character remains amorphous. He pursues an affair with Sakiko’s sister Hiroko, perhaps the novel’s most fragile character, whose desire to please her father overwhelms whatever artistic talent she may have. Yet he genuinely seems to care for Sakiko and wants her to grow stronger, even admonishing her to learn to say “no.” Neither Sakiko nor the reader can tell if he is a womanizer with sensitive pretensions or someone more complex.

Although it ends on a half-heartedly optimistic note, the novel leaves a bitter aftertaste of unresolved anger.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Chin Music Press

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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