A thrilling and moving story of love and desperation.

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OFF THE WELL-LIT PATH

A desperate man tries to recover his teenage daughter, kidnapped in Mexico. 

Bob Rugg and his 13-year-old daughter, Rose, travel to Mexico together with plans to relax on a sun-drenched beach. But they’re intercepted by gangsters who steal Rugg’s truck and abscond with Rose. Rugg, shot and left for dead, somehow survives. He’s brought to a hospital, where one of his legs is amputated. Hobbled but determined, he takes it upon himself to track Rose down, afraid that if he reports the crime, he’ll forfeit his only real advantage—the gangsters don’t know he’s alive and coming for them. Rugg only has the most meager of leads. For example, he remembers that a young thug with a pronounced limp lifted his wallet. Holm (Driller, 2016) alternates between two dueling narratives: a third-person perspective that focuses on Rugg and a first-person account from the perch of Rayo, a newly recruited gavillero under the rule of El Sin, the crime boss who runs the outfit that abducted Rose. The author artfully swings between two viewpoints worlds apart, capturing the vulnerabilities Rugg and Rayo share: Both submitted to the despotic calculations of El Sin. Rugg takes extraordinary risks to find his daughter and finds that the line that separates law enforcement from organized crime is capriciously drawn.  Holm beautifully combines two typically incongruent fictional genres: a gripping, action-packed novel and an emotionally astute drama. His writing is poetically austere at times, invoking the hard-boiled prose of Cormac McCarthy: “The streets daylit. Rugg saw laborers with bundled lunches and water jugs, some riding bicycles, their lives lived beyond his troubles. Their troubles borne beyond what his life would know.” The author refuses to traffic in facile caricatures or easy moral distinctions: Rayo is a sympathetic character because of, not despite, his imperfections, and even El Sin, as dastardly as he is, is permitted a human side. And Rugg is a deliciously complex character—a former pilot and soldier, he radiates a grizzled toughness and a cynical wisdom born of loss and despair. Holm could have made him into a formulaic action hero—cinematically invincible—but he avoids that shopworn trope. And the surfeit of action the book does deliver unfolds in captivating language, the violence terrifyingly real, the danger sickeningly ubiquitous: “The desert without gully or outcrop. A vanished sea had left Rugg no concealment beyond the holes of long dead foraminifera, their benthic shells crunching under his feet. He ran with his mouth blooded and agape, as though in astonishment at a newly broken world, one where masked marauders set a man free so that they might shoot him in the back.” This is certainly not a feel-good story or for those in search of lighthearted entertainment. Holm asks a lot of his reader, both to understand the plot and to stomach the violence. But the author repays that labor with a memorable literary experience. 

A thrilling and moving story of love and desperation. 

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9974553-8-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Sentry Books

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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