An erudite, richly layered, and unsettling psychological tale.

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FINGER OF AN ANGEL

A grieving mother embarks on a mind-expanding journey in this novel.

Lily, or “Lily the Pink,” as she is known at “naked yoga,” is a 60-something woman who is a member of the “strictly-by-invitation-only” website “come-to-woody.com.” The site allows “perfectly respectable” professionals to meet for anonymous sexual encounters in a “secret little wood somewhere north of Hampstead Heath,” London. She has a strained relationship with Gemma, her 29-year-old daughter, who “doesn’t approve of” her lifestyle. And yet elements of Lily’s hedonism are linked to her first child, Tommy, who died at 8 after slipping out of the hands of his irritated father, Frank, at bathtime and suffering a fatal fall. During one of her ventures to Hampstead Heath, the air-conditioning on Lily’s classic Mercedes fails. In the heat, she begins to experience strange phenomena. She sees her dead son in the eyes of a fly she identifies as the angel Ithuriel. She later encounters two men, one of whom she instantly recognizes as “the devil incarnate.” All the while, Lily consults with her alter ego, Bella, nicknamed the “Unexploded Bomb.” As in his previous novels, Cacoyannis (The Madness of Grief, 2018, etc.) deftly builds complex psychological portraits of his characters. Here, his fiction employs magic realism to both blur and sharpen Lily’s shifting mindscape. As she sits in the suffocating heat of the car, her altering vision is at first understandable: “Trickles of sweat had already found their way into her eyes, but she could see. The slight blurriness—the effect was of an old-fashioned photograph fuzzy from the grain of excessive enlargement.” Aberrations in her vision later become the “colourful brushstrokes” of a migraine aura, but she also inexplicably sees, behind a fly’s “ruby domes,” unmistakable eyes far more piercing than hers, belonging to her dead son. The author delights in leading readers to the unsteady territory between the possible and the impossible. His writing is intentionally disorienting and unnervingly addictive as readers grapple to make sense of two or more separate realities sewn seamlessly together. Cacoyannis is known for his introspective protagonists, but in this exceptional novel he delves even deeper, excavating the darkest corners of the psyche.

An erudite, richly layered, and unsettling psychological tale.

Pub Date: April 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79879-080-9

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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