Not quite as dynamic as Sebastian’s more explicitly political work, the novel is still a compelling portrait of desire in...

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A young man's romantic and sexual exploits are examined from various angles in this novel first published in 1933.

In the first section of Sebastian’s (For Two Thousand Years, 2017) second novel to appear in English, a young Romanian medical student arrives at a guesthouse in the Alps. He has just completed his exams in Paris and has come to take a rest. Instead, he becomes involved with three different women at the guesthouse—romantically and sexually—and, all in all, there’s little rest to be had. His name is Stefan Valeriu. In the novel’s second section, time shifts forward and perspective shifts sideways. Valeriu is now narrating—not his own exploits, this time, but the sad situation of a girl he once knew, with “an impoverished, joyless life.” The novel shifts twice more after this: First there is a letter to Valeriu from a woman to whom he has apparently proclaimed his love; and, last of all, Valeriu returns to the first person to describe an earlier affair with a former acrobat. Sections are titled after the women they describe: Émilie, Maria, Arabela, and so on. But even though the novel takes as its main subject the romantic entanglements of its main character, there is something else, too, seething beneath this current. The novel was written in the years between the two world wars, and though no explicit reference to politics or history is ever made, the shadows of the wars are felt quite forcefully in each discrete section. Sebastian himself was a Jew from Romania who wrote openly about his experiences. Eventually, his friends abandoned him. He survived the Second World War only to die in a freak accident in 1945. Sebastian’s other, perhaps stronger, work deals more directly with the legacy of the wars, but this novel is no throwaway, either: It’s an edgy account of sexuality, desire, and the strictures of contemporary relationships.

Not quite as dynamic as Sebastian’s more explicitly political work, the novel is still a compelling portrait of desire in its many convoluted manifestations.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59051-954-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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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