A funny, unusual read that rises above its more distracting elements.

Coinman: An Untold Conspiracy

Mishra’s debut comic novel is an absurdist tale of office and personal politics set in a small town in northern India.

A clerk called Coinman can’t stop jingling the coins in his pocket. It’s a simple addiction, but it’s one that comes to rule his life. His real name is Kesar, but his lifelong habit earned him his nickname, and because he’s a bit of a shrinking violet, he accepted it. His obsession drives his work colleagues and his spouse a bit nuts. His wife, Imli, an actress who’s so obsessed with her craft that she becomes her characters at home, bans coins from the house. At the same time, his co-workers conspire in their own ways to rid themselves of Coinman’s constant jingling. One co-worker, Ratiram, poses as Coinman’s friend in order to ingratiate himself with his fellow employees. Another colleague, Hukum, has a penchant for bullying. They and their fellow workers love to get together to gossip, and their chief target is Coinman himself. It gets to the point where they start ganging up on him physically, which is a turning point in all their lives; it changes the office dynamic and sends a few people on unexpected paths. Things also change in Coinman’s relationships with his parents and Imli, and he soon decides that he must deal with his habit himself. Mishra takes the central motif of coin jingling to an extreme, and it wears thin at times, but it’s an effective stand-in for any personal problem that causes social friction. The author also has a good eye for offbeat, comic moments; for example, at one point, Imli, caught up in her role as a doctor in her latest play, shocks Coinman by giving him an injection in his behind. In another scene, Ratiram nearly convinces Coinman that he can solve his problems by growing a goatee. However, the prose has a strange cadence that sometimes makes it hard to parse its meaning; for example, when Coinman is attacked, Mishra writes, “As a result the coins sheepishly fell to the floor—old and new, outdated and in use, humiliated but still in the news.”

A funny, unusual read that rises above its more distracting elements.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-47567-6

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Lune Spark

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2016

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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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