A delightfully lighthearted tale that engages serious issues through farce.


One for the Ark

A novel about big ideas in a small town.

Thomas Donaldson became the mayor of Stirling, Wisconsin, in the hope of eventually running for the state senate. Reviving a small, failing town, he thinks, would count as evidence of qualification for grander office. However, he learns that George McBurney has posted a sign on his 600-acre farm announcing his plan to build a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark as an expression of his religious belief. Thomas tries to dissuade him, but George is fiercely committed to his “Big Idea” and prepared for a protracted political fight if anyone tries to stop him. Meanwhile, Martha Downing reports that she witnessed the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often called “BVM” for short, emblazoned on a cement wall of an underpass. Lowell Waller visits what many immediately interpret to be a shrine and regains the power of speech that he lost following a stroke. Martha and some other like-minded enthusiasts waste no time in declaring Lowell’s boon a miracle. Thomas struggles to balance his own genuine religiosity with his desire to avoid public embarrassment. Meanwhile, he tries to delicately handle public opinion about the prospect of George’s ark, which he views as a ridiculous future eyesore. Thomas also learns that his daughter, once a star student at Yale University, is undergoing hormonal therapy to become a man. Author Reed’s (Saluting the Sun, 2015, etc.) novel is wildly implausible and flirts too conspicuously with attempts to make the plot serve a greater lesson. As is often the case with intentional farce, some of the characters are reductive caricatures—more like personified punch lines than fully fleshed-out people. However, the story is so inventive and genuinely funny that readers should be able to forgive its heavy-handedness. Reed dishes out ridiculousness without devolving into manic slapstick and courageously tackles controversial issues with a graceful touch. The author rightfully lets her characters speak for themselves as much as possible, with sharp-tongued dialogue that never seems overly contrived.

A delightfully lighthearted tale that engages serious issues through farce. 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9962525-5-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ampersand Editions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

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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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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.


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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