Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull with a long, winding tail, and you’ll have some of the feel of Danielewski’s latest.

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THE LITTLE BLUE KITE

A windy New Age parable by postmodern novelist Danielewski (The Familiar, Volume 5: Redwood, 2017, etc.).

Danielewski has spent the last few years writing endlessly long, genre-crunching novels that are projected to build to a series of a couple dozen thick volumes, making Proust look like a piker. This latest, falling outside that series, isn’t on its face intended for children, since it’s got big words like “devastated” and “endeavoring” and big themes like death and psychological dread, but it’s full of kid’s-book elements, if perhaps as filtered through the post-apocalyptic Hawaiians of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Kai is a kid with a penchant for flying kites, even as his granny warns that with enough string he might “reach the edge of the Murk.” It would spoil the fun to reveal just what the Murk and the “immense monster too immense for any one name and hungrier than all the emptiness that haunts the space between all the stars” are, but suffice it to say that Kai isn’t shy of tempting fate, the more so as he grows older. And grow older he must, and when he does—well, he’s got to choose whether to hunker down in the Murk or throw off the bonds and strings of grown-up life and fly free in the clear blue sky. Guess which he elects? Let Danielewski tell it: “Kai’s mind is wide open! Kai’s mind has become a sky!" One wonders if Kai’s been reading Michael Pollan’s book on psychedelics, but no matter; thanks to the little blue kite, he enjoys a fine trip. It’s not quite so straightforward, though, for, ever intent on playing language games, Danielewski offers three different ways to read the book, two of them signaled by typographic elements and the other the boring, old-fashioned method of reading the thing straight through. It’s up to the reader to judge which is most rewarding—and whether the trip, though refreshingly brief, was worth the effort.

Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull with a long, winding tail, and you’ll have some of the feel of Danielewski’s latest.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4769-5

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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