The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

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SPELLS

A NOVEL WITHIN PHOTOGRAPHS

A novel that was created by the author in response to a selection of images taken by five photographers from around the country.

A fascinating endeavor, documented at spellsproject.com, this is the book version of a project that has also been presented as a multimedia installation at an art gallery and in addition might become a film. Rock, a novelist (The Shelter Cycle, 2013, etc.), wrote to five different photographers asking them to send him images, then spun his own characters and plot from the connections he made among them. Parts of what results can seem like dreams, fantasies, fairy tales, or hallucinations, though the plotline itself is fairly clear and straightforward. Alex and Sonja, who have known each other since second grade, have arrived at an age of sexual awakening. Or at least Alex has, as he confesses his desire for Sonja to her friend Naomi, who lives in the house where her grandmother recently died. Sonja seems to feel drawn to Naomi more than she is to Alex. So, there is that triangle of relationships, interrupted by two strange occurrences—an older man in a suit becomes obsessed with Naomi, after dreaming about this young woman he had yet to encounter in life, and he confesses to Alex that he's been stalking her. (The man also carries on a conversation with a stranger via notes exchanged by carrier pigeon.) And Naomi’s grandmother has decreed in her will that Naomi will take a voyage to who knows where for who knows how long, leaving Alex and Sonja to share the house she has left. There is also an “I” who may not necessarily represent the author, a “you” who stands for Naomi, and a pair of bears who may or may not exist beyond the minds and fears of some characters but whose images have been captured on film. “The images are not merely illustrations for a pre-existent story, then, but the conditions and possibilities and limitations of how the storytelling preceded,” the author explains in “A Preface of a Sort.” “The images came first. One way to think of it is that the stories herein, and the larger story they become, were already embedded in the photographs.”

The novel holds together surprisingly well considering the unusual genesis and process.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-900-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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