An amusing, occasionally sobering look at how evil can spring from unexpected wells.

THINGS GRAK HATES

A humorous debut novel about the surprising consequences of one man’s intense distaste for olives.

Grak, a moody, misunderstood member of a group of egalitarian nomads, suffers from a “severe and unusual hatred of olives.” That, in turn, means he doesn’t like Lago, the tribe’s cook, who adds the fruit to all the dishes he makes. To get back at Lago, Grak utters a small and seemingly innocent lie. Yet that spur-of-the-moment falsehood leads to other lies, and soon Lago is banished after being falsely accused of poisoning the group’s food. Before long, Grak, through a combination of cleverness and dumb luck, installs himself as the group’s leader—a previously vacant and unnecessary position. He then proceeds to manipulate his friends, seek vengeance on his perceived enemies and generally turn what was once a happy, thriving tribe into a starving, dysfunctional group ruled by a despot with a shaky grip on reality, as revealed in Grak’s increasingly unhinged internal monologue. Story’s quirky novel commendably shows how easily evil can take root and flourish. The setting may be pre-modern, but Grak’s behavior is immediately recognizable as the wounded posturing of the schoolyard bully. This thoroughly unlikable protagonist is driven not by a thirst for power or riches but by his own inability to trust others. Early on, he wonders: “What is this deviousness? Was she a part of this? Did they plan it together…out of their mutual resentment toward me?” Even when his tribe is at the brink of ruin and he’s publicly executing those who dare to question him, Grak sees himself as a victim. Friendly overtures are misread as insults, while offhand remarks are evidence of sinister plots against him. Often, the results of these misunderstandings are blackly comic. Grak’s downfall is inevitable (if a long time coming), but what’s more troubling is that even though he eventually loses power and sees the error of his ways, he has taught those around him how to use fear and violence as tools of subjugation.

An amusing, occasionally sobering look at how evil can spring from unexpected wells.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0990749301

Page Count: 334

Publisher: Paper Newt

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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