Flook’s descriptions can be breathtaking, but the ludicrous plot, maddeningly irrelevant exposition, and unlikable...

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LUX

After Invisible Eden (2003), a true-crime bestseller, Flook returns with a third novel (following Open Water, 1995, etc.): a tale of romance between two year-rounders on Cape Cod.

Alden, once a neglected child—deserted by her mother at ten, her father in and out of jail—lives in an isolated beach shack and works at the National Seashore Visitor Center, handling bird counts and the gift shop. The local cops think of her as “Miss Bride Interrupted,” because her husband, Monty, disappeared two years before, leaving her “high strung and unhinged” (they assume he ran off with “a skirt”). Alden takes meals to Hyram, an elderly environmental activist, and yearns for a child, but the foster-care supervisor hasn’t approved a license. The story begins when she witnesses an accident in which Layla, paint sniffer and local porn star, is thrown from her car. Alden rescues Layla’s baby, safe in a car seat, and the cops take him to social services while Alden fantasizes about bringing him home with her. Meanwhile, ornamental shrubbery at the accident site needs repair—so enter Lux, a landscaper with a strange “freezing syndrome,” an obsession with Alden, and a very bad secret: back when he was mixing alcohol and Vicodin and driving the school bus, he got drunk one night with the mysteriously disappeared Monty and not only accidentally ran over him but buried him in the nursery under the very ornamental that’s now needed to patch up the shrubbery along the road. Will he be found out? He turns for help to his sister-in-law Gwen (who likes him to share her bed when her husband is fishing for swordfish) and his ex-con buddy King. By the time he begins an affair with Alden, the narrative has begun to wobble badly.

Flook’s descriptions can be breathtaking, but the ludicrous plot, maddeningly irrelevant exposition, and unlikable characters leave this one flat.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-00092-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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