The eloquence of the language transcends—and almost redeems—the plot’s gimmickry in this remarkable debut.

READ REVIEW

THE LAST EQUATION OF ISAAC SEVERY

A celebrated mathematician leaves a legacy of inexactitude to his confused progeny.

Isaac Severy, the elderly patriarch of a numerically gifted clan, predicts his own demise and awaits his executioner one morning in his Hollywood Hills backyard. After his death, his granddaughter Hazel receives a letter from him containing clues to the equation that is his life’s masterwork and also a prediction: “Three will die. I am the first.” Only Hazel and, as will be revealed later, her brother, Gregory, have been selected by Isaac to fulfill his mathematical designs, although they are not blood relations but foster children taken in by Isaac's black-sheep son, Tom, and adopted by Isaac after Tom’s imprisonment. Hazel is a failed Seattle bookseller, Gregory a not particularly diligent LAPD detective. These two nonmathematical Severys take turns with their uncle Philip, Isaac’s son, a particle physicist whose academic career has stalled, having chapters told from their perspectives. Romantic yearnings, of the illicit and/or near-incestuous variety, afflict all three. Several vividly sketched minor players vie for access to Isaac’s secret, not least his reclusive daughter, Paige, a probability theorist, and her son, Alex, an aspiring international man of mystery. Strangers are also circling. P. Booth Lyons, allegedly a government agent, has sent his persistent secretary, Nellie Stone, to stalk Philip around the campus of Caltech. A strange professor wants Hazel to meet him at the La Brea Tar Pits. The path to Isaac’s equation meanders through a hotel room numbered 137, a stubbornly password-protected computer, and a map of Los Angeles dotted with stickers noting dates and times. The second to die validates Isaac’s dire prophecy, lending urgency to the quest to decipher the stickers. In lovely, inventive prose, Jacobs re-engineers the tropes of family drama to explore age-old conundrums of destiny versus self-determination. However, the sheer number of characters and gambits threatens to overwhelm such a relatively short novel, as does the magnitude of its ambition.

The eloquence of the language transcends—and almost redeems—the plot’s gimmickry in this remarkable debut.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7512-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more