Original, richly felt, deftly written. Highly recommended.

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APHASIA

In Ecuadorian Cárdenas' second novel—after The Revolutionaries Try Again (2016)—a once-reluctant father tries to balance family with an awareness of lost possibilities while his sister's life unravels.

Antonio Jose Jiménez immigrated to the U.S. from Colombia to fulfill his dream of an Ivy League education. Now a divorced database analyst, he lives in a small apartment connected through a purgatorial laundry room to the apartment he once shared with his wife and two young daughters. Struggling to write in his spare time, he avoids thinking about his sister or his own failed marriage by remembering former girlfriends (one of whom chose "László Krasznahorkai" for their safe word) and having sex with college students he meets on a site called Your Sugar Arrangements. He studies fathers in fiction and movies. "To learn how to be a father from a movie might sound ridiculous…but how else do men learn to be fathers different from their own monstrous fathers?—holotropic breathwork?" Divided into five sections of short chapters, the story unfolds in a fragmented, fractured style, the long, breathless sentences dizzying and richly packed with memories, connections, and literary references. Cárdenas undercuts the idea of a single, stable identity and suggests the self as a many-layered work in progress. On the YSA site, Antonio calls himself Arturo. At work, consumed by thoughts of "the other lives he could have lived if he’d left his former wife when he was planning to, three weeks before conceiving Ada," he imagines different versions of himself, including Antonio I (soccer player), Antonio VIII (writer), and Antonio V (database analyst), who "creates a spreadsheet to tabulate the other Antonios." Meanwhile Antonio's sister has a schizophrenic break brought on in part by their traumatic childhood with an abusive father. Confronted with discomfort, Antonio's brain "activates its emergency erasure mechanisms." A person, he thinks, is "an accretion of misfortunes," aphasia "a metaphor for expressive paralysis." Fans of the author's inventive, ambitious debut novel will find the same sardonic intelligence, paired here with a deep humanity. Despite erasure mechanisms and paralysis, Antonio works to be a better brother, a better parent to his girls. "Everywhere we went I saw grandmothers looking at us and marveling at a world where fathers and daughters held hands."

Original, richly felt, deftly written. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-25786-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

ONE BY ONE

Our contemporary Agatha Christie offers up her version of And Then There Were None when 11 people are stranded in a ritzy ski chalet and begin dying one by one.

By the numbers, the streaming app Snoop is devastatingly successful, and the company is on the cusp of a major buyout—if the shareholders vote to take this route. The founders, Topher and Eva, are torn, and the other three shareholders are being courted to choose sides. Most of the pressure falls on Liz, an awkward outlier when compared with the glamorous, beautiful people who head up the company. Though she doesn't work directly for Snoop anymore, Liz is included in the leadership retreat: It's her and eight other board members at a lush, remote French ski chalet for a little powder, a little pampering, and a little back-channel business. Erin and Danny, the caretakers of the chalet, notice tension among the members of the Snoop group from the beginning, but overall it seems like just another wealthy, entitled corporate gathering. The weather on top of the mountain grows increasingly dangerous, and when nine people go out to ski and only eight return, fear and suspicion begin to grow. Then there's an avalanche, and the chalet is cut off from contact with the outside world. Soon, another group member dies, apparently poisoned, and then another is murdered because of something she saw. The survivors must split up to search for help before there's no one left. Alternating chapters between Liz's and Erin’s points of view, Ware does what she does best: Gives us a familiar locked-door mystery setup and lets the tension and suspicion marinate until they reach fever pitch. Another win for Ware and her adaptations of classic mystery traditions.

The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8881-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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