An affecting story about one man’s quest to transcend his troubled past.

From This Valley

A young soldier, shortly after the Civil War, abandons his regiment to explore the northern Canadian territory and its dangerous prairie lands in this debut historical novel.

Ryan Price Meade has an illicit romance with Priscilla, the daughter of his family’s black butler. After Ryan’s father discovers the situation, he immediately banishes him from the homestead, and he’s sent to serve in the U.S. Army 7th Cavalry Regiment under the command of a distant relation. Following the Civil War, he’s reassigned to a unit under the command of George Armstrong Custer, an idol of his for years. But Custer turns out to be a brutal warrior, and Ryan is horrified when the man orders the massacre of a Native American tribe, including women and children, at the Battle of Washita River. Disillusioned and tortured by his memory of the battle, Ryan flees his post and sets out for Canada. He stumbles upon a sergeant from the North West Mounted Police who’s traveling with a half-Native American, and they help him prepare for a perilous journey through near-lawless lands occupied by hostile warriors, bandits, and unscrupulous traders. Then Ryan receives a tragic epistle from his former butler. Overwhelmed by grief, he rejects the possibility of returning home to join the family business and sets out on his own in search of solitude, more than anything else. Along the way, he meets a young Cheyenne girl he saved during the Washita massacre. The two fall in love, travel to her mother’s clan, and make a new life. Later, Ryan wrestles with a lifetime of demons but remains open to the possibility of new love, peace, and redemption. Author Harvey warns readers in a preface that he plays fast and loose with historical fact. That said, he does a marvelous job of evoking the spirit of the period, particularly in his depictions of the complex relations between whites, blacks, and Native Americans. Over the course of the story, Ryan suffers from Job-like losses, and the sources of his profound discontent sometimes seem too extraordinary and sudden to be believable. His internal tumult, though, set against the volatility of an evolving and unsettled world, is painted with powerful and vivid brush strokes throughout.

An affecting story about one man’s quest to transcend his troubled past.

Pub Date: April 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8098-0

Page Count: 312

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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