A haunting but hopeful story of the new West and the unlikely passions it stirs.



A man returns to the small Western town where he grew up and finds that his family history won’t stay buried in this debut novel.

In 1979, Joe Meeks is a construction worker with a penchant for getting thrown off jobs for second-guessing the engineering. He’s on a building site in New York City when his cousin Evan Gallantine shows up with both bad and good news: on the one hand, Joe’s long-estranged father has died; on the other, his passing clears the way to sell the Meeks’ hardscrabble ranch for a handsome sum to dam developers. Joe goes to the town of Meagher, Montana, and then up to the Meeks ranch, to try to convince his ornery 90-year-old grandmother Frances, the last holdout among the local ranchers, to sell the spread. Joe brings along Wade, a 12-year-old boy who looks like him but whom he’s reluctant to call his son, as he reconnects with Meagher’s colorful denizens. As Wade falls in love with the ranch, Joe has misgivings about selling out and running from a guilty past. The novel effectively explores the conflict between yearning for the wider world and staying rooted in place, no matter how wretched the land and searing the memories. Feeling a bit like a mashup of Larry McMurtry and the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure, Ellison’s tale features wonderfully evocative descriptions of Montana’s majestic landscapes and richly atmospheric cow-town settings. Amid well-paced scenes and punchy, pitch-perfect dialogue, it also includes vivid, sharply individuated characters, including Joe’s rapscallion ex-con uncle Harlo; Father Sterling, whose Sunday services are popular for their copiously alcoholic Communion libations; feisty redhead Marly Croft, an old flame of Joe’s who wants to turn her decrepit Grand Hotel into a swanky inn to cater to Evan’s visions of Meagher as an Aspen-style resort; and Marly’s even feistier daughter Anne, whose native truculence (“What’re you lookin at?”) subsides into an infatuation with Joe. There’s also the elderly Frances, an ex-deputy who once shot a robber and then fielded a marriage proposal from the crook’s partner. The final result is first-rate storytelling with a powerful emotional undercurrent.

A haunting but hopeful story of the new West and the unlikely passions it stirs.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9981856-0-6

Page Count: 366

Publisher: Passing Through Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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