An ambitious, evocative small-town tale located somewhere between Peyton Place and The Last Picture Show.

SECTION ROADS

A 43-year-old murder casts a long shadow over a high school reunion that brings together three friends haunted by the past.

Not much changes in the New Mexico town of Arthur unless it absolutely has to, as a character observes in this debut novel that impresses with its strong sense of place. The stage for this decades-spanning saga is compellingly set when Hezekiah Boyd’s high school reunion committee tracks down the computer software maven. He insists there has been a mistake: The man, formerly known as Buddy, left town and never returned after a prank went wrong and he killed a classmate named Christy Hammond in 1966. He would not be a welcome guest. But the heart of the story shifts to Cullen Molloy and his first love, Shelby Blaine, Buddy’s classmates, friends, and fellow outcasts. Cullen and Shelby were a passionate teenage couple back in the day, and there is still an inextricable bond between them that is not unnoticed by Cullen’s current lover, a retired cop. Murphey keeps the story hopping between events in the ’60s, the aftermath in the ’70s, and the reunion in 2009, when a murder sheds light on the 1966 killing. Cullen, a divorced former lawyer who went to work for Buddy, is called on to defend the man from new suspicions and confront his own long-simmering relationship with Shelby. The author, a New Mexico native and award-winning journalist, knows the lay of the land; not just the geography, but also high school football culture, passionate fumblings in cars, and secrets to be taken to the grave. The book is densely populated with vividly drawn characters. One, Weard Ward, a former genius fried by his years with the CIA, serves as a sort of comic relief, but he is the weakest player. The antagonists, including Christy’s uncle and a former high school nemesis, spout clichéd dialogue (“You’ve got some…nerve showing your face here”). But the relationship between the three friends rings true and deftly holds the sprawling narrative together.

An ambitious, evocative small-town tale located somewhere between Peyton Place and The Last Picture Show.

Pub Date: May 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947392-51-9

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Acorn Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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