ANCIENT EVENINGS

Egypt, 1100 B.C.: a narrator without memory ("I still did not know who I was, nor how old I might be") finds himself in the Necropolis, in the tomb of young, dead nobleman Menenhetet the Second. . . and only slowly realizes that he is in fact "nothing but the poor Ka" (part of the soul) of Meni II. An unnerving, disorienting, promising beginning for this 700-page novel—but then, alas, the Ka of Meni II meets the Ka of his great-grandfather Meni I, a much-reincarnated High Priest who will be the primary narrator in the six long, lifeless sequences that follow. In "The Book of the Gods," Meni I offers a mini-history of Ra, Isis, Horus, Set, et al., seen in terms of "shit, blood-sacrifice, and fucking" (especially homosexual rape—a major preoccupation throughout the novel). In "The Book of the Child," Meni II remembers a childhood visit—with father, mother Hathfertiti, and Meni I—to Pharaoh Ramses IX, an endless evening during which Meni I tells the four-"Book" story of his previous existence in the bygone era of Ramses II: he is the Pharaoh's Charioteer and rape victim ("I was no longer myself but His, and loved Him. . . but I also knew I would never forgive him"); he's a leader in the Battle of Kadesh against the Hittites (powerful war scenes), indulging in cannibalism; he then becomes "Nanny of the harem," consorting in kinky rituals with the sorceress/ courtesan Honey-Ball (but also having threesies sex with the Pharaoh and a pig); next he's courtier/lover to Nefertiri, the Pharaoh's dumped queen ("you fucker, give Me your obelisk," she murmurs); eventually, in life #2, he'll become High Priest. And, while Meni I's reminiscences go on and on, Meni II's passive father sleeps (one can hardly blame him)—but the six-year-old Meni II himself becomes increasingly aware of the sexual cracklings in the air: the lust between Ramses IX and Hathfertiti, the sexual secrets of Meni I and Hathfertiti. . . and, above all, Meni II's own simmering "desire for my Mother" (they will indeed become lovers). Did Mailer's research into Ancient Egypt reveal a cultural fixation on Oedipal incest, fellatio, anal rape, and castration anxiety? Or is this a willful projection of Freudian preoccupations onto the world of the Pharaohs? Whichever the case, the result is oddly stagnant fiction—straining to conjure up a nexus between mysticism and sex. And though there are passages of vividly exotic Egyptology, along with a few of coarsely amusing anachronism, this flatly episodic epic most often seems embalmed in its own obsessions—with little to reward the many readets who'll be drawn by the Mailer name and the media interest.

Pub Date: April 25, 1983

ISBN: 0349109702

Page Count: 709

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983

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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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