A moving, entertaining set of stories from a notable new voice.


Easiest If I Had A Gun

Martin’s debut story collection chronicles the wayward lives of children and adults in rural Pennsylvania.

These nine stories rarely leave the confines of the western part of the Keystone State, but all their characters dream of escape in various ways. For some, this means running off to college; for others, it simply means sitting in a junkyard Bonneville, imagining they’re a character in The Dukes of Hazzard, speeding away. The 10-year-old narrator of “Seventy-Two-Pound Fish Story” yearns so much for a meaningful father-son excursion that he begins conflating fact and fantasy. The adults in the story, who mostly remain in the background, do this as well. In “You Gotta Know When To Hold Them,” a mother loses herself in sanguine romantic novels and fantasies of a better life while refusing to believe it’s possible for her son to have head lice. Likewise, the mother in “Dreamland,” as the title suggests, is so lost in her own alcoholic world that she can no longer see the consequences of her actions. Although these narratives of struggle and desire might sound bleak in summary, Martin is smart enough not to let his stories be overtaken by sentimentality or despair. Nor does he attempt pat endings full of epiphanies or moments of transcendence. Instead, these stories achieve the far-too-uncommon accomplishment of realistically and lovingly depicting everyday people as they stumble and try to break free of their bonds. For example, readers will recognize the adolescent who can’t stand his ex-girlfriend but nevertheless wonders “if she would still have sex with him.” Refreshingly, Martin’s writing not only contains deep currents of empathy, but is also consistently vivid and alive, whether it’s capturing the stilted dialogue of teenagers or pausing to consider the small wonders of the world (as when a fishing line flies out “like a slow breath”). In short, the stories in this collection often feel heartbreakingly real in the best possible way: they show readers humans, flawed and frustrated, just trying to survive.

A moving, entertaining set of stories from a notable new voice.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-692-29400-0

Page Count: 135

Publisher: Braddock Avenue Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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