A familiar plot fortified by delightful characters in a glacial setting.

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Somethin' for Nothin'

Recovering a decades-old crashed plane promises a fortune for a small group in Alaska, provided everyone can avoid double-crosses and murderous drug dealers, in Bass’ (In the Black, 2015, etc.) thriller.

Sure that they’ll flunk out of Ohio State University, pals Albert Stiles and Wesley “Waxy” Biederby leave school and head west. Or northwest, with Albert believing the two can amass wealth working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Unfortunately, those jobs require a one-year state residency, and opportunity slips further away once Albert’s dad cuts off his credit card. The friends wind up with dishwashing and bartending gigs at the bar Beantown Bob’s Fenway Park West. Albert, still aiming for a pipeline job (and testing his luck by initiating a sexual relationship with Beantown Bob’s girlfriend, CiCi), hopes to acquire a union card for sale. Waxy, meanwhile, may have another way of striking it rich. According to co-worker Moe the Eskimo, a cargo plane transporting government payroll (presumably millions) crashed 30-odd years ago near his village. Jimmi the Pilot proves essential in searching the mountain, but when his latest drug deal with Mexican smugglers goes bad, he wants to find the loot as quickly as possible. Digging through a glacier is dangerous enough, but as others, including Albert, join the hunt, some may readily deceive to ensure the split goes fewer ways. Readers should recognize the story of a ragtag crew scouring for cash or gold, so betrayals are almost inevitable. Bass’ tale, however, exudes freshness, courtesy of a memorable snowy backdrop and indelible characters. The plane’s potential location, for one, makes a search unmistakably arduous, and there’s inherent risk for Waxy using a chainsaw in an ice tunnel. The narrative, too, offers no definite good or bad guys. Jimmi is part of a shady smuggling operation but also clearly fond of Waxy, while Albert does something that would make the average villain cringe. The only notable female players, CiCi and waitress Emma, don’t do much beyond forming romantic pairings with Albert and Waxy. But thankfully, neither woman takes guff from anyone—in her first scene, Emma’s thoroughly unimpressed by Albert and Waxy’s joke-laden dinner order.

A familiar plot fortified by delightful characters in a glacial setting.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9833807-6-4

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Electron Alley Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2016

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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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