An underdeveloped, aggressively vague first novel.

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FROM WHENCE WE COME

A family saga about a gay man dealing with feelings of rejection and neglect.

Dorsey (Businessman First, 2014) traces three generations of an African-American family in this novel, from the early 20th century to the present day. The story focuses first on Estelle, the eldest daughter of Anna and Harrison Cory Sr., who, at age 10, is forced to take over as caregiver for two siblings after the death of their mother. Her father doesn’t particularly want to keep or take care of the children, and he ultimately uses them as a workforce in the home of a wealthy white family, where Estelle is forced to look after more kids. As a young woman, she moves to Baltimore against her father’s wishes, and there, she begins dating a young man named Albrecht Rose, and she marries him after she becomes pregnant with his child. Upset at the prospect of raising another youngster, Estelle wants only to get her daughter into school so that she can begin working and earning her own money—but she quickly becomes pregnant again. Thereafter, she secretly goes on birth control, but then Albrecht convinces her to have yet another child, despite his military career which keeps him constantly away. Seymour, their third and final offspring, is a timid person who clings to his mother as the years go by, despite her refusal to accept the fact that he’s gay and repeated reminders that she never wanted him. Dorsey makes Seymour the main character of the last third of the book, but this soon devolves into an unfocused but highly aggrandizing summary of Seymour’s academic and career accomplishments. The overall story presented here is fictional, but it’s based on a true one, and as a result, it often reads less like a novel than like a therapeutic airing of familial grievances. Throughout the book, the author often avoids conventionally staged scenes and dialogue, instead favoring meandering, highly repetitive summaries of characters’ actions, with blunt pronunciations about who’s good (“Seymour was the most innocent and good-natured of Albrecht and Estelle’s children”), who’s bad, and who’s ugly along the way.

An underdeveloped, aggressively vague first novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5434-6290-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2018

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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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