A comedic but cliché-ridden chronicle of self-destructiveness smartly combined with a sober consideration of adult...

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MIDTOWN MADHATTER

In Monda’s fictional memoir, the narrator reflects back on his mischievous youth and his discontent as an adult. 

Petey Walsh makes his way to Manhattan to attend the wedding of his best friend, Jackie Collins, and reunites with his boyhood crew from Seattle. He’s immediately drawn back into the allure of alcohol- and drug-fueled dissipation. His first order of business when he gets off the plane is to “score some weed,” a feckless misadventure that ends with Petey getting robbed. In the company of the old gang, he wistfully reflects on a mischievous youth—he was the chief “instigator” of a rambunctious lot prone to devilishly prankish hijinks. However, that gamesome streak eventually slid into darker behavior. His addiction to alcohol and drugs led to a stint in rehab. Petey moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, opened a chain of cafes, married, and had two daughters. Now, he still feels deeply dissatisfied by it all, especially his contentious marriage to Elena. Debut author Monda artfully combines an atmosphere of elegiac remembrance with punchy comical anecdotes. The story toggles between Petey’s narration of his present experience in New York City and his recollection of his wayward adolescence and life in Mexico. His adulthood, despite the obligations of family and business he’s assumed, has a shiftless quality, as if he never planned on reaching middle age. “I honestly believed that I never would’ve lived past twenty-six,” he says.  Monda poignantly captures Petey’s reluctance to mature and the profound shame that hesitation causes him. Despite an abundance of opportunities, he despairs not only of squandered benisons, but also of the existential anguish he feels he hasn’t earned—a heartache the author tenderly and unflinchingly depicts. “And through my own free will, or lack thereof, I had taken all of life’s blessings and flung them back in her face, choosing instead darkness, despair, and misery.” Monda’s prose can be featurelessly anodyne. His writing is littered with stale clichés (“I remember it as if it were yesterday”). While the prose can be very funny and endearingly self-effacing—Petey is inarguably free of pretention—it lacks any discernibly literary quality. In fact, the whole book reads like a long anecdote told from a bar stool, which loses some of its charm over the course of nearly 300 pages. Further, some readers may tire of the plot’s bottomless reserve of fraternity-style energy. In Monda’s defense, arrested development is not a particularly attractive quality, and so Petey’s callow boorishness is as fitting as it is grating. Nevertheless, Monda’s fictional memoir is an impressively astute anatomy of remorse—and a surprisingly hopeful one, too. 

A comedic but cliché-ridden chronicle of self-destructiveness smartly combined with a sober consideration of adult responsibility.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-59849-255-2

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Classic Day Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

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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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