THE BOY

An intensely dramatic, well-constructed, but unfortunately overwritten debut—about an androgynous teenager’s powerful effects on those who fall under his spell—by a Lebanese-Irish American heretofore known for his poetry. If —the boy— is this novel’s protagonist, both his and the story’s antagonist is Sean Hennessy, a former social worker bereft of his beloved ex-wife and two children, both dead, who searches the London streets for Pierce, his foster-son—and, Sean believes, owing to an ill-advised liaison with an unstable client, his natural child as well. A series of parallel narratives details both Sean’s progress (and also the mixed motives that propel it) and the changes that were wrought by the boy Pierce (or Durward, or any of the several other names he assumes) in Sean’s clinically depressed daughter Megan (whose diary is excerpted) and in his critically ill son Liam; the life of Theresa, matron of a Home for Boys where —Devon— briefly lived; and the doings of —the fat man,— the weak-willed —Daddy— who adores —Alex— (another of the boy’s incarnations), the angelic —rent boy— for whom the fat man will commit any act—including murder. Murr juggles these separate stories adroitly, and keeps us guessing about the good-vs.-evil duality that motivates the boy’s actions. But his story is crucially flawed by its reliance on a hoary clichÇ: The boy’s passionate sense of life seems preferable to his acquaintances— inability to commit themselves fully—either to people or to ways of living. (Both James Purdy’s novel Malcolm and Pasolini’s film Teorema may have influenced Murr.) And there’s a tendency for these characters to overexplain themselves, speaking and thinking in unconvincingly abstract terms (as when the boy speaks of his influence over the trusting Megan: —She had such a meager soul, but with the husbandry I—ve learned of necessity, I made quite a feast of it—). Technically a capable debut, though the unreality both of its Mephistophelean central figure and of his beneficiaries and victims makes it, finally, unconvincing.

Pub Date: May 12, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-90106-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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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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