This book’s portrayal of childhood exuberance and petulance, vivid characters, and Eddie’s ephemeral sense of melancholy...

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White Piano, Black Piano, Brown Piano

Young Eddie Steinberg, growing up in 1950s Corvallis, Oregon, visits his maternal grandparents in Los Angeles in this child’s-eye view of the world of adults.

Malamud’s (Old Poems, New Translations: Two Books of Verse, 2013) novel focuses on Eddie’s California visit to his beloved “Granny.” It’s an evocative portrayal of a young boy passionately entranced by sunny California and on the brink of comprehending the complexities of human interactions. The author’s chapterlong depiction of the three-day journey by train from Corvallis to Los Angeles captures young Eddie’s visceral sense of excitement and wonder as he’s lulled by the sound of the wheels on the tracks, the swaying of the cars, and the scenery rushing past his window. Eddie’s world exists in the moment, and the book is filled with meticulously written observations of details of ordinary life, allowing Malamud to turn a simple gas-station stop into an anecdote-worthy event: “He got back in the car. His grandfather got in. The drama of turning the key in the lock, the motor purring to life, the slow slide out of the gas station, with the smooth Buick full of luxurious gas.” Sometimes, the moments are filled with the magic of imaginative flights of fantasy, especially when Eddie is denied something he really wants: “He’d have a swimming pool, and fill it with ice cream and chocolate sauce. And everyone in the world would admire him for doing it.” The bulk of the novel takes place during the family’s 1958 excursion, during which Eddie spends three weeks alone with his grandparents. Two more annual summer visits follow, and each time Granny and Gramps, a voice instructor, rent a different house furnished with a different piano. The story then surges a bit jarringly forward, with the family moving East as Eddie’s father becomes a successful writer—think Bernard Malamud, the author’s late father—in a short catch-up that brings Eddie into his late 20s.

This book’s portrayal of childhood exuberance and petulance, vivid characters, and Eddie’s ephemeral sense of melancholy should keep readers hooked until the end.   

Pub Date: May 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5307-1042-3

Page Count: 204

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

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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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