An elegant but lifeless stories held prisoner by an idea—in this case, the long shadow cast by the war.

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THE DEADWOOD BEETLE

A finely crafted if emotionally cool exploration of a legacy of wartime guilt, a burden lifted only when a retired Dutch-born entomologist meets an antique dealer with her own sorrows.

Tristan Martens is an authority on beetles. He lives alone in a Manhattan apartment filled with cases of specimens he has collected. Since his bypass surgery, he’s acutely conscious of his scarred body, but even more troubled by his psychic scars. His marriage has ended, and his wife now lives with his born-again son Christopher—more a concept than a credible character—who sends ranting messages urging Tristan to repent. In the end-zone of his life, Tristan is in sore need of solace, which he finds when he goes into an antique store and sees his mother’s old sewing table. The proprietor, Cora Lowenstein, refuses to sell it because it serves as a necessary reminder of her past. She tells him that the table, which belonged to her husband’s aunt, a Jew in hiding during WWII, bears on its underside in a childlike hand an inscription in Dutch: “When the Jews are gone, we will be the next ones.” Cora interprets this as a warning, but Tristan knows it’s true, and more vicious, meaning. Planning to steal the table, he becomes involved with Cora, taking her to lunch, meeting her for coffee, and accompanying her as she visits her hospitalized husband, now in a coma. These meetings inevitably evoke painful memories of his father, a Dutch Nazi, and his older sister, a Hitler Youth who responded to his family’s imprisonment for their collaboration by committing suicide. Haunted by his family’s complicity, Tristan finally finds peace as he confesses his past to Cora, who has crises of her own to face.

An elegant but lifeless stories held prisoner by an idea—in this case, the long shadow cast by the war.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14805-1

Page Count: 227

Publisher: BlueHen/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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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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