A bit more playful than some of Coelho’s other efforts, and all the better for it.

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THE DEVIL AND MISS PRYM

A NOVEL OF TEMPTATION

Coelho’s latest parable (The Zahir, 2005, etc.) has vague Kafkaesque overtones as a town is challenged to murder an innocent in exchange for prosperity.

The small village of Viscos has a proud past, but at present is dying. All the young have moved to the city, leaving middle-aged shepherds and farmers and a tavern owner dependent on the occasional tourist in search of a mountain idyll. Its demise is only a matter of time as the world is in short supply of civic miracles. When a stranger comes to town, only old Berta sees what no one else can—that his invisible traveling companion is the Devil. The stranger invites Chantal Prym for a walk in the woods and there shows her two burial spots—one contains a single bar of gold, the other ten bars. It is a test for the town, and as the tavern’s barmaid, Chantal is the chosen mouthpiece. The village can have the gold if in three days they commit a murder. Seeking an answer to the question of evil, the stranger is betting that humanity is immoral, even in the quaint village of Viscos. An arms manufacturer, the stranger’s wife and daughters were killed by terrorists (using guns that he made), and ever since, he has had the Devil at his back and the eternal struggle between good and evil on his mind. Initially, Chantal refuses to speak, afraid of becoming complicit in the crime, but the stranger forces her hand, and soon the whole village knows of the proposed bargain. To Chantal’s horror, the town accepts his offer (thanks in large part to the priest, who, eager for the deal to go through, offers a sermon on how the sacrifice of one saved humanity). Now Viscos has only to decide the victim, unless Berta and Chantal, the top choices, can change their minds. Filled with Coelho’s trademark mysticism and philosophical anecdotes to illustrate a point, the brief tale is made finer by the Kafka- Shirley Jackson–derived motifs—the creepiness of a town eager for a murder offsets the author’s tendencies to spiritual pontificating.

A bit more playful than some of Coelho’s other efforts, and all the better for it.

Pub Date: July 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-052799-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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