A finely wrought family drama.

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Fireflies in the Night

Tragedy and powerful but fraying limitations on women roil an Indian family in this intense historical coming-of-age novel.

In 1957, the expectations for Indian women are pretty cut-and-dried: be a good housewife. Unfortunately, in the family of Achan Krishnan, a tax collector recently reassigned to the chilly Himalayan province of Assam as a punishment for not taking bribes, such certitudes no longer satisfy. His beautiful wife, Devi, longs for more erotic passion than the stolid Achan can muster; her longings inflamed by racy romance novels, she casts her gaze at a handsome British plantation manager who dances with her at parties while Achan fumes. As if to overcompensate for her improprieties, Devi strictly polices her two daughters: Anu, a dutiful teenager, and Kavita, an unruly, 9-year-old scamp. The family tensions ratchet up when Kavita’s little brother, Arun, the apple of his parents’ eye simply because he’s a son, gets eaten by a tiger during an outing to a park. The grief-stricken Devi shaves her head and goes silent, then rebounds into even more scandalous conduct with the Brit. As the girls head into adulthood and feel the liberating tremors of the 1960s, she imposes a straightjacketing virginity-protection regime on them—no contact with boys allowed—while plotting arranged marriages to dreary older men. But a violent rupture looms as Anu conceives a forbidden love with a boy not of her caste. Warriar’s (The Enemy Within, 2005, etc.) novel, told mainly through Kavita’s voice, steeps readers in Indian culture, reveling in vivid descriptions of foods, landscapes, colorful fashions, and convoluted mores. It’s also a subtle, gripping study of patriarchy as it blights women’s lives while poisoning their relationships with one another. Kavita grows up in a world that prizes her virginity yet subjects her to constant molestation attempts by men. Meanwhile, Devi—suffocating in a loveless marriage and a generally unfulfilled life and acting out in brazen ways—is determined to impose the same hell on her daughters; indeed, she comes to see them as the main stumbling blocks to her happiness. But although Devi’s an almost monstrous character, the author still manages to portray her sympathetically. Warriar’s richly textured novel portrays this unraveling family with real emotional depth, showing how social pressures turn parents and children against one another.

A finely wrought family drama.

Pub Date: June 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9877484-1-6

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Warriar Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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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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