Upping the metafictional ante is the question of whether India's bond-trading experiences will inspire her to write another...

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DEAR MONEY

Nearly everybody who reads—newspapers, magazines and websites, in addition to fiction—recognizes the plight of the midlist novelist. Not the brand-name superstar, whose annual connect-the-dots release invariably shoots to the top of the bestseller list. Not the highly touted newcomer, whose debut captures the fancy of so many critics, with raves spawning a flurry of other raves, a consensus that will likely curdle with the sophomore effort. Not even the literary trophy novelist, whose renown far exceeds any recent commercial success, but whose prestige adds luster to the publisher's catalog.

No, the classic midlister is no household name, except in the households of some book reviewers, and perhaps in those of the few others who avidly monitor book reviews. Such a readership might represent a cult fandom and guarantee sales in the low thousands. Enough that some imprint, though maybe not the same one, will publish the author's next novel, without expectations on anyone's part that it will fare much better. Martha McPhee's fourth novel wouldn't be so funny if it didn't ring so true. As the narrator of Dear Money, India Palmer has published four novels, none of which has sold more than 5,000 copies, and has written a fifth, which she had “come to hope…would be the winning ticket in the literary lottery where art met commerce.” Though it would be a mistake to reduce India to an authorial stand-in, the delicious irony of McPhee's novel is that it deserves to be her own lottery winner, the breakout book that attracts a popular readership exceeding those drawn by the critical notices and prize nominations for her earlier work. Yet her novel recognizes what a daunting challenge this is, how the publishing industry and celebrity culture make it easier for a tabula rasa newcomer to achieve such attention than for an author who has already established a track record. Finding herself “consumed by want,” India suffers even more because she and her artist husband have become close friends with a wealthier couple who can easily afford the standard of living to which the novelist guiltily aspires. Their expansive social circle encompasses a playboy financier who tempts India into something like an affair, only one where the lust is for money. McPhee has a lot of fun with a couple of archetypes—a Pygmalion transformation of the novelist into a financial high roller and a “city mouse/country mouse” exchange of ambitions—but what makes this novel work so well is that India continues to engage the reader's empathy, even affection, as she forsakes literary high-mindedness for filthy lucre. The novel reflects just how much of an industry publishing is, and how success in financial speculation involves crafting a compelling narrative.

Upping the metafictional ante is the question of whether India's bond-trading experiences will inspire her to write another novel—maybe even one as culturally subversive as McPhee's.

Pub Date: June 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-15-101165-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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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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