A well-written, thoughtful treatment not just of a popular literary trope but of a nagging social issue.

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The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

A humorous and surprising satire of both the zombie apocalypse and the culture of addiction.

Bill, a middle-aged man once poised for a promising career in politics, greets several winners of the New York Lottery. It’s become his dubious honor to calm the winners down and get them prepared for the requisite press conference. The characters are always the same: overweight and all too ready to take the lump sum and blow the winnings as quickly as possible. But the striking Courtney catches his eye. He sees there is something different about her. Young and apparently strong, he figures she’ll actually be wise enough to collect her money over time. Bill is so well-rendered and the set piece of the conference—its humanity, humor and banality—so convincing that by the time the lottery winners, reporters and staff members (eventually, the entire city) are brutally ravaged by zombies, it actually comes across as an enjoyable shock. Despite its grizzly gore, the zombie apocalypse here is worn rather lightly, and as Bill and Courtney face their travails in a destroyed city and ponder what has kept them alive, the deeper layers of both humor and allegory arise. Bill and Courtney discover that, despite differences in age and experience, both their lives have been colored by alcoholism and addiction. Courtney, though not seemingly an addict, was reared in the environment of addiction. As they make their way through and away from the city, they collect other survivors, one of the more interesting being a young man they find in a jail cell. He convinces the group that he’s not a killer but a drug dealer by trade, just trying to make his way through the recession. Though somewhat derivative in its treatment of the zombie mythos, the novel’s final passages—with a sharp focus on survivors still learning to deal with addiction and the consequences of self-reliance, denial and dependence—are wholly original and a satisfying end. Despite it being yet another foray into the land of the undead, the care taken in both characterization and prose earns the reader’s time.

A well-written, thoughtful treatment not just of a popular literary trope but of a nagging social issue.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-0991066810

Page Count: 238

Publisher: HOW Club Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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