This master storyteller ensures that the book is continually intriguing and charming. Yet taken together, the two narratives...

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THE DISCREET HERO

The Nobel laureate weaves together the tragicomic misfortunes of two families and several friends in this tale of crime, passion and avarice.

Vargas Llosa (The Dream of the Celt, 2012, etc.) turns from the broad historical and political concerns of his previous novel to look at how blood ties unravel when money and deceit come into play. In Lima, Peru, the wealthy, aged widower Ismael surprises everyone—not least his two wayward sons—by suddenly marrying his much younger housekeeper.When the newlyweds fly off on a long honeymoon, the sons’ anger at losing their inheritance is directed at Rigoberto, Ismael’s longtime employee and friend and one of the witnesses to the couple’s furtive ceremony. The ensuing personal threats and legal wrangling add to Rigoberto’s troubled preoccupation with his teenage son’s reports that a dapper, possibly demonic man has been appearing out of nowhere and talking to him. In the nearby city of Piura, Felícito’s peace of mind unravels when he receives an extortionate note that threatens his transport business and mistress. One of his two sons is a good fellow, the other anything but, and Felícito has never been sure he’s the father of the scapegrace. As the plots move toward various resolutions, the reunion of two sisters fits right in with all the other pairings. The themes of paternity and filial respect get a good workout, with permutations touching on the self-made man, inherited wealth, marital tolerance and sex after 70. Felícito’s is the stronger story, as he is the book’s richest character, and Vargas Llosa spends much time walking him around a city the author once lived in, giving readers a true feel for the streets, sounds and ceaseless heat.

This master storyteller ensures that the book is continually intriguing and charming. Yet taken together, the two narratives don’t make a strong whole, rather more a theme and variation that can seem sometimes dangerously close to what Rigoberto at one point calls his side of the story: a soap opera.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-14674-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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