Curiously light, an herbal teacup of the grim horrors drunk by the gallon by predecessors long ago.

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THE OFFICERS’ WARD

First-novelist Dugain’s return to WWI, winner of the Prix des Libraires, offers quietly extended moments of seeming authenticity, then ends not in ashes but in soap.

In 1914, Adrian Fournier is 24, a civil engineer—and an officer. In his first day at the front, before the fighting has really even begun, he’s told to scout for locations along the Meuse where bridges can be built—but he doesn’t get far. Just as he’s gotten off his horse, the two men with him are killed and he himself is wounded hideously, never having even seen the enemy. His injury is “maxillofacial,” a wound to the face—or, more exactly, the loss of the whole center part of his face. He becomes the first patient in the wing of the Val de Grâce military hospital set aside for officers with this dreadful type of wound. There he’ll stay for the duration, in fact until April of 1919, undergoing a total of 16 operations (though his face “still did not look human”) and pondering how to go on with life afterward. As the ward fills, he becomes a kind of respected senior figure along with two others—Weil and Penanster—who remain patients as long as he does and with whom he becomes lifelong friends. There’s a woman in the picture also—Fournier met her only once, the night before he went to the front. Will she remember him? Will his appalling wound make love impossible? Weil counsels that sexual love is over for men with wounds like theirs—but could he be wrong? The love melodrama, though, poses fewer troubles for the reader than does the inexplicable good cheer of these ruined men, fêted by the state apparatus that even now still hasn’t embittered them (“It was a great day, and I came away convinced that this had indeed been the war to end all wars”).

Curiously light, an herbal teacup of the grim horrors drunk by the gallon by predecessors long ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-56947-265-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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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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