Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.

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FRENCH EXIT

“They’re not normal people”: an entertaining romp among the disaffected bourgeoisie.

Early in the pages of deWitt’s (Undermajordomo Minor, 2015, etc.) latest, the shiftless son of Frances Price—a meaningful name, that—wanders into the family's Manhattan kitchen to find his mother wielding a “long, gleaming knife.” Having never seen her cook, Malcolm is puzzled. No, she’s not cooking, says Maman: “I only like the sound it makes.” Frances and Malcolm are sensual creatures, she a “moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five years,” he “broody and unkempt.” Now, suddenly broke, Frances decides to sell what she can and bolt to Paris, Malcolm in tow. Frances is a whirlwind, not a person to observe the rules: When the real estate agent says his fee will be 30 percent, nonnegotiable, she negotiates: “If you name another figure that is not fifteen percent, I will go to fourteen percent…and on down the line until your payment, and your sole function in regard to my own life, disappears altogether.” Their fate in Paris and en route is to meet unlikely people, like one Boris Maurus, whose moniker prompts Malcolm to remark, with unusual insight, “We both have horror movie names,” and the footloose Mme Reynard, who disappoints Frances by being rather affable and unstylish rather than offering a foil for “a night of implied insults and needling insinuations.” Sometimes it seems like the most grown-up character in the novel is the cat, Small Frank, and in any event Paris is not always a picnic, as when Malcolm and Frances observe a knot of cops beating up a demonstration of étrangers: “They moved through the pack knocking down the immigrants one after the other; a tap on the skull and on to the next.” Such sharply observed moments give deWitt’s well-written novel more depth than the usual comedy of manners—a depth reinforced by the exit that closes the tale, sharp object and all.

Reminiscent at points of The Ginger Man but in the end a bright, original yarn with a surprising twist.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-284692-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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