Thoughtful, well-observed, haunting—a great debut collection.


In this strong collection of short stories tinged with uneasiness, regret or loss, characters grapple with making sense of things.

Nine of the 13 short stories were previously published in literary magazines; this is the first collection from essayist, writer and professor emeritus Lilly (Words in Search of Victims: The Achievement of Jerzy Kosinski, 1988). In the title story, Vic—an acquisitions librarian—has impulsively moved his wife and 11-year-old daughter from the Northeast to New Mexico, to a shoddy, vaguely threatening apartment complex with sketchy neighbors and a pack of unsupervised kids. Driving back alone one night, Vic hears a radio revivalist ranting about “the bad place, the Lake of Far, burning somewhere you can’t see.” The voice “unwind[s] its skein of signs, warnings, accounts not settled.” This mood of impending reckoning and the need to interpret signs characterizes many of the stories. In “Want Ad,” Ari is a rug salesman well-versed in the art of reading rugs’ patterns; “the temptation is to think rug-reading can rub off into other areas,” such as his own body. For example, he looks in the mirror and sees “inauspiciousness is written all over the face.” The haunting “Mother’s Milk” follows a troubled boy polishing his mother’s shoes, studying “different patterns”; in his father’s snowmobile shop, he arranges the track rollers in “special patterns on the cement floor.” In “The Pope’s Dream,” workmen repairing Michelangelo’s damaged Pietà “begin to read signs from the configuration of bone-fingers.” As for what these signs and patterns reveal, Lilly’s characters find few satisfying answers. One narrator, on regular visits to a wounded vet friend, says, “Each time I return to Ward E I try to force a change, break a pattern,” but in the end, he watches a crazy man in a jester’s hat shutting down traffic: “For some reason I want him to stop and talk. But I settle for just watching him escape.” Despite the air of regret, these stories resist cynicism and embrace several telling, humane moments.

Thoughtful, well-observed, haunting—a great debut collection.

Pub Date: March 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62429-022-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Opus at Politics and Prose Bookstore

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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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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