Smith knows the Civil War in his bones, and his novel will leave readers emotionally drained but grateful.

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SCARRED

A CIVIL WAR NOVEL OF REDEMPTION

This lean Civil War sequel packs in more history and raw emotion than a 600-page epic.

Novelist Smith (Home Again, 2014) continues the story of Zach Harkin, a Union sharpshooter who was traumatized when he killed Confederate sharpshooter Jack Kavandish. This left Zach unfit for service; he was mustered out but resolved to find Jack’s widow and return his journal to her, along with her picture that Jack carried. An older Zach tells the story to Chris Martin, an enterprising young reporter from Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World who shows up in Zach’s Knoxville, Tennessee, gun shop in 1908. In the fall of 1863, Zach slipped away from home to pursue his quest, do or die. Confederate sorties (Tennessee was a border state) were one danger, but Union soldiers, who assume he’s a deserter, could be just as bad. After more than one close scrape, he wound up in Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison in Georgia. We meet its notorious commandant, Henri Wirz, who was later hanged for war crimes. Zach-as-father-figure becomes a recurring motif: first, at Andersonville, he became the protector of young Beau Andrews, a bugle boy from Michigan; later, he became a real father to Kavandish’s son, Tom. With Wirz’s unwitting help, he did escape Andersonville. Then he was in the Deep South, which was more and more a lawless place, as he worked to find Jack’s farm; Gen. Sherman’s forces were coming through, and the “Home Guards,” as portrayed here, were little more than plunderers and rapists. Smith writes wonderfully and realistically, and one can hear the pacing and menace: “[Zach] could see the men’s eyes were wild, almost glazed over from drink. They sat heavy on their saddles, their heads not moving in unison with the horses’ movements. Zach braced for the worst.” Smith also knows as much about the guns of the era as a professional gunsmith and restorer. Readers will find themselves wincing and full of outrage at several turns of the plot; readers will hope—even assume—that the most sympathetic characters, whom they’ve come to love, will somehow manage to survive, but Smith often dashes such hope. One subplot, involving Martin standing up to the dictatorial Pulitzer, is either a bonus or a distraction, depending on the reader’s taste.

Smith knows the Civil War in his bones, and his novel will leave readers emotionally drained but grateful.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5303-7974-3

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2016

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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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