A shrewdly unique portrait of everyday America.

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THE BIOGRAPHIES OF ORDINARY PEOPLE

VOL. 2: 2004-2016

This second installment of a two-volume novel charts the everyday lives of the members of a Missouri-based family and its acquaintances.

The first volume of Dieker’s (The Biographies of Ordinary People: Vol. 1, 2017) unusual work opens in 1989, introducing Jack and Rosemary Gruber and their three young girls, Meredith, Natalie, and Jackie. This sequel picks up with Jack and Rosemary in 2004—their girls have grown, and the family faces the trials, tribulations, and trends of the new millennium. Meredith, the eldest of the Gruber sisters and the novel’s most engaging character, has just graduated from college and is still determined to become a writer. When her internship at a Minneapolis theater company falls through, she is forced to take a position in telemarketing. The tale follows her occasionally precarious attempts to stake her claim in life, her jobs, her dates, and her dream to write professionally. A criticism of the first volume was that nothing much happens outside of daily rituals. The same can be said here; the characters send emails, surf the internet, load the dishwasher, and pour coffee—all rather mundane. Jack teaches; Rosemary still works at the bank. But while this sequel continues to meditate on the humdrum, it is far from boring. Subtle changes, from struggling with dial-up internet access and wondering “what’s a blog?” to using online video chat and emojis, cleverly create the overarching sense of time passing, the incremental ticking of the clock in other people’s lives. Dieker’s writing is remarkably intuitive and descriptive, understanding and detailing subtle traits of human nature: “Meredith sighed, the little grunt of air out of her nose that Jackie had been listening to almost her whole life.” As in Volume 1, there is a lack of narrative drive here, which may deter some readers. In many respects, this approach feels intentional and remains faithful to the pattern of day-to-day existence, which does not always yield a story. This is a thoughtfully conceived book that is mindful not only of technological progressions, but also the cyclical nature of life—ending on Meredith’s 35th birthday, the age of her mother at the opening of the first volume.

A shrewdly unique portrait of everyday America.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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