Remarkably well-paced and well-written, this novel ends with an existentially astute finale. Don’t expect to be able to set...

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THE GLOAMING

A propulsive literary thriller toggles between Switzerland and Tanzania.

In a concise, elegant seven paragraphs, Finn (Shame, 2015) opens her second novel with the intimations of an affair. The narrator, Pilgrim Jones, has discovered that her husband, a globally influential human rights lawyer, has abandoned her, and his deception sets up a lethal incident. Pilgrim awakens in a Swiss hospital, having smashed her car into a village bus stop, killing three children. For reasons that only gradually come into focus, she decamps for Tanzania, where the bush is “a tangled, knitted green stretching over the earth, a hot wool itching with insects, snakes, and birds.” Finn, who writes with a psychological acuity that rivals Patricia Highsmith’s, switches between Europe and Africa in tense alternating chapters, rewarding close attention. The book is terrific on diplomatic detail and police craft, the murkiness of human motivation and the pervasiveness of corruption. The parallels on both continents are subtle and thrilling. The Swiss investigator of Pilgrim’s car crash, preparing to face the dead children’s families, lets the rain pummel him: “It was better if he looked wet and bedraggled; his sympathy would appear more authentic.” Finn, who grew up partially in Kenya, writes supplely about Africans and the whites who move among them. The novel travels 175 pages in Pilgrim’s voice, then switches into third-person segments centered on each of five characters who’ve crossed her path: the Swiss police inspector, a tiny Tanzanian doctor, a Midwestern American bent on starting an AIDS orphanage, a Ukrainian mercenary, and a drunken white ne’er-do-well. Each has been altered by atrocity, a quality that Finn imbues with familiarity. “Tom would say to me that violence becomes an identity,” Pilgrim thinks, “how people see themselves in the world, and to ask them to stop being violent is asking them to erase themselves.”

Remarkably well-paced and well-written, this novel ends with an existentially astute finale. Don’t expect to be able to set this book down or forget its haunted characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937512-47-7

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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