An engrossing social tapestry, filled with quiet spiritual dramas.

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SIGNALS FROM A LAMPLESS BEACON

BEASTS OF BURDEN

Subtle moral conundrums stir this luminous saga of genteel Southern society in the mid-20th century.

Traywick’s loose, episodic tale follows a sprawling cast of characters from World War II through the mid-1960s as their lives are changed or upended by the inscrutable workings of fate. At one focus is the family of Thomas Strikestraw, an Episcopal minister in a small North Carolina town who likes to confound his flock with mildly heretical sermons. His son, a naval officer, disappears under circumstances that implicate him in a German spy ring. At the other focal point is the Ashfield clan, aristocrats of South Carolina’s Low Country, along with their African-American companions in the Gadsden family, whose daughter, Lilia Belle, is raped by a congressman. Around these poles orbit neighbors, friends, small-town eccentrics and several isolated subplots that gradually weave themselves together, including a man who wakes up with amnesia aboard a U-boat just as it’s captured by the British and a World War I veteran who, having survived one calamity after another against all odds, decides he’s destined to never die. The novel treats its characters’ travails with serene equanimity. Estrangements, crimes, miscarriages and deaths violent or tranquil are folded calmly into the narrative flow, their consequences surfacing only much later in musings on religion and ethics or in surreptitious acts of generosity and honor. Traywick’s richly textured prose creates a fictive world that’s almost Faulknerian in its density, revealing to the reader a burnished, elegiac view of upper-crust Southern life on the cusp of the civil rights movement—a gracious world of plantations, glamorous balls, weddings and shooting parties. For now, racial tensions are muted and salved by humane courtliness. Traywick’s vision is limited—almost cloistered—and so meditative that it seems detached at times, even though it sheds a captivating glow.

An engrossing social tapestry, filled with quiet spiritual dramas.

Pub Date: March 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-1440126390

Page Count: 312

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

ONE BY ONE

Our contemporary Agatha Christie offers up her version of And Then There Were None when 11 people are stranded in a ritzy ski chalet and begin dying one by one.

By the numbers, the streaming app Snoop is devastatingly successful, and the company is on the cusp of a major buyout—if the shareholders vote to take this route. The founders, Topher and Eva, are torn, and the other three shareholders are being courted to choose sides. Most of the pressure falls on Liz, an awkward outlier when compared with the glamorous, beautiful people who head up the company. Though she doesn't work directly for Snoop anymore, Liz is included in the leadership retreat: It's her and eight other board members at a lush, remote French ski chalet for a little powder, a little pampering, and a little back-channel business. Erin and Danny, the caretakers of the chalet, notice tension among the members of the Snoop group from the beginning, but overall it seems like just another wealthy, entitled corporate gathering. The weather on top of the mountain grows increasingly dangerous, and when nine people go out to ski and only eight return, fear and suspicion begin to grow. Then there's an avalanche, and the chalet is cut off from contact with the outside world. Soon, another group member dies, apparently poisoned, and then another is murdered because of something she saw. The survivors must split up to search for help before there's no one left. Alternating chapters between Liz's and Erin’s points of view, Ware does what she does best: Gives us a familiar locked-door mystery setup and lets the tension and suspicion marinate until they reach fever pitch. Another win for Ware and her adaptations of classic mystery traditions.

The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8881-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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