IMPOSSIBLE SAINTS

A curious and unaccountably redundant seventh novel from the English-French author of, most recently, the prize-winning Daughters of the House (1993). In a smooth style that expertly details several distinct historical settings, Roberts tells two juxtaposed stories: the life of St. Josephine, as recalled by her formerly wayward niece Isabel, and capsule “lives” of 11 other women elevated (in some cases, virtually air-lifted) to sainthood. Both narratives are framed by chapters set in “The Golden House,” a reliquary where the bones of the devout dead are displayed and worshiped. It’s the final resting place, in a sense, of the restless Josephine, a bookish girl and precocious writer who, after an uncharacteristic act of teenage rebelliousness, is sent to a convent where “she struggled for years to get the hang of how she was supposed to be holy.— Roberts depicts Josephine as a truculent intellectual unsettled by manifestations of the divine (Christ visits her in bed at night); a passionate gardener, autodidact (for whom learning leads to humility), and socialist organizer who eventually founds her own convent. It’s hard to gauge Roberts’s aims in this narrative, which can be read as an ironical study of the psychological dimensions of religious devotion. Things are clearer in the 11 interpolated “lives,” whose subjects include St. Petronilla, the daughter of St. Peter, who’s mortified by the drunken post-crucifixion carousing of the apostles; St. Thais, who seduces her father and dies in the well to which she is thereafter confined; and St. Marin, a girl disguised as a boy who is falsely punished for “fathering” her father’s illegitimate child—and achieves martyrdom. These are broad, often startlingly sexually explicit caricatures of emotionally driven females (many of whom have a thing for, or are had by, their fathers) whose intensity alone, it seems, sanctifies them. Insouciant and entertaining, even when one doesn’t know quite what to make of it. The Vatican will not be amused.

Pub Date: May 21, 1998

ISBN: 0-88001-597-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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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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