A lusty, tragic tale for readers who are willing to work for its satisfying moments of connection.

Jagged Edge of the Sky

Coomer’s (Dove Creek, 2010, etc.) second novel tracks the impact of an Australian lothario on two families, one Australian and the other American.

The story begins in the Australian Outback in the 1950s, where Edmonds Tuor and his wife, Cherise Marie, operate a caravan camp. Next door are Russell and Jeanne McMurtrey, Americans who’ve brought their two children to caravan through Australia on an educational journey. With the McCurtreys is a local hire, Rich Hand, a “road assistant and tour guide.” Rich has “Hair black like an oyster” and “Cobalt eyes,” which is evidently an irresistible combination, as both Cherise and Jeanne are separately swept away by his animal magnetism. The affairs result in both women getting pregnant. The McMurtreys return home to San Diego, where their new son, Dale, is born, and Cherise gives birth to Martin, her third child, in Australia. Martin eventually moves to America, and the second half of the novel follows him to Idaho, where he’s an on-again, off-again mental health patient. Much like his older brother, Piotr, who has “night terrors,” Martin suffers from “seizures” and hallucinations, which are depicted in harrowing detail. Coomer has woven an intriguing, complicated tale filled with so many characters that readers will need a score card to keep them all straight. Almost everyone has ties to everyone else in one way or another, in locations from Australia to America and through the decades of the second half of the 20th century. A few more signposts would have been useful; instead, readers will have to ferret out the revolving time frames from scant clues. Although the narrative is heavily character-driven, it’s also defined by its attention to local vernacular, its vivid imagery of the unforgivingly arid Outback, and its focus on the challenges faced by a unique assortment of people who have chosen to call it home. Overall, it’s a frustrating yet engrossing read that leaves readers pondering where the story might go next.

A lusty, tragic tale for readers who are willing to work for its satisfying moments of connection. 

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-945419-02-7

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Fawkes Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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