A unique and informative, if not compelling, story hampered by too many nonessential details.

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In Raffer’s debut novel, a man undergoes treatment for a life-threatening cancer and searches for his birth family.

It’s 1946 in New York City, and a young woman beset by tragedy makes the difficult decision to give up her son for adoption. The child, named Ken by his adoptive parents, grows up to become a well-respected doctor with a successful California private practice, a lovely wife and several children. As he ages, he longs to contact his birth parents, but his adoption records are sealed. When a strange rash appears on his skin later in life, he initially dismisses it; when he finally seeks medical treatment, it’s diagnosed as a rare form of cancer. Back in New York, Ken’s birth mother has built a life of her own, but she’s often troubled by thoughts of the child she gave up. Unbeknownst to her and her grown daughter, Sharon, Ken is in dire need of a stem cell transplant. Will the two families find each other in time to save Ken’s life? The author, a neurologist, draws on his own medical experience to scrupulously explain each aspect of Ken’s treatment, and readers with some understanding of science will likely enjoy this painstaking approach. Others, however, may find the technical discussions abstruse and yearn for a less clinical, more emotional treatment of the protagonist’s predicament. Raffer’s approach extends to his character’s lives as well, but often, the amount of detail becomes excessive and interferes with the plot. The novel jumps back and forth in time repeatedly to tell the full story of Ken and his biological family, with the majority of the novel devoted to Ken’s predicament. The members of Ken’s birth family, though richly described, often feel more like plot devices than fully formed supporting characters. In general, the heavy focus on his cancer treatment means that he, too, reads less like a complete human being than as a device for explicating a rare medical condition.

A unique and informative, if not compelling, story hampered by too many nonessential details.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1499053388

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2014

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

SUMMER ISLAND

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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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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