CLOUD CHAMBER

Dorris's first solo novel in almost a decade is a partial prequel to his successful A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987), and a generational saga that celebrates the enduring power of family ties. It begins in western Ireland in the mid-19th century, with Rose Mannion's struggle to choose between the charismatic lover who has betrayed ``the Cause'' (of Irish independence) and the decent man her family and townspeople urge her to prefer. A half-century later, Rose's sons Andrew (a priest) and Robert are the two halves of a dilemma that frustrates Robert's dissatisfied wife Bridie (a terrific character: hard as nails, yet helplessly in thrall to the one man she cannot have). The story moves ahead with scarcely credible speed (a major flaw in Dorris's otherwise efficiently constructed narrative) to the 1930s when Robert, recovering from illness and amnesia, makes the reacquaintance of Bridie and their daughters Edna and Marcella, in the American Midwest, to which the family has been rather summarily transplanted. The novel finds its footing in a beautifully detailed and extended contrast between Edna's stoical common sense and Marcella's somewhat flighty romantic nature—expressed in the ailing Marcella's impulsive marriage to a handsome young black man she meets while recuperating in the sanitarium where Edna works as a nurse's aid. The focus then shifts to Marcella's son Elgin, his Army experiences in Germany in the 1960s (during which he learns some disturbing truths about his father's reported death in wartime), and thereafter to Elgin's daughter Rayona (a major character in Yellow Raft). Though it's all a teensy bit contrived and too hurried to be fully convincing, the tale is gripping, thanks to Dorris's empathy for the ethnic diversity and solidarity that give his characters their strength, and to a skillfully varied succession of voices, all quite distinctive. A little of John O'Hara, and rather more of A.J. Cronin, here, but the story's details will draw you in and keep you reading. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-81567-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more