Inventing a do-nothing slob you can empathize with is a neat trick, but the story’s a bit too slovenly.

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APATHY

AND OTHER SMALL VICTORIES

Death and misery stalk the antihero of Neilan’s comic debut—and that’s just at the crummy temp gig.

Shane knows a bar whose happy hour begins when most people are taking their first coffee break, but then he’s got the kind of life that’ll prompt a guy to start drinking at 10 a.m.: He’s fully convinced that his upstairs neighbor is carrying on an untoward relationship with his pet guinea pig; his landlord won’t be so pushy about the rent if he’ll sleep with his wife; and his sexual encounters with his girlfriend, Gwen, tend to feel a lot like professional wrestling matches. Oh, and he’s accused of murdering Marlene, a deaf dental hygienist who taught Shane to talk dirty in sign language. Neilan ultimately resolves Marlene’s death but not Shane’s bottomless hatred for himself and the world around him, and the funniest bits have him going metaphorically off the grid—the beer at a party tastes “like kiddie porn,” sex with the neighbor’s wife is “like an off-duty clown swinging two fish together by their tails.” If you can hang with Neilan’s taste in rude jokes and non sequiturs, there’s lots to like: Even if the humiliation of temp-slave life is well-trod ground for comedy writers, Shane’s abjection about alphabetizing files (and worse, his getting congratulated for his fine job of alphabetizing) gets some fresh laughs. But the occasional laugh-out-loud line doesn’t salvage a narrative that never quite jells. Shane’s regularly referenced tic of stealing salt shakers never becomes meaningful in terms of either plot or characterization, and the jokes get more leaden toward the end, as the author is forced to tie together the story’s multiple threads. More than a couple gags at the expense of the mentally retarded don’t do Neilan any favors, but Shane’s never pretended to be polite.

Inventing a do-nothing slob you can empathize with is a neat trick, but the story’s a bit too slovenly.

Pub Date: May 2, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35174-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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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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