An intriguing artifact for hardcore fans but an unremarkable entry point for new readers.



A scholar is invited to an eerie scholarly retreat in this melancholy blast from the past.

At the end of the 1980s, Peter Straub (A Dark Matter, 2010, etc.) was in a rough patch, having spent three years writing Koko (2011), a bleak story about murderous Vietnam veterans to which the author was emotionally attached. It was that loss that inspired this dreary novella, which was published in a very limited edition in 1990, and is now unleashed on the general reading public. The book is almost myopically centered on Professor William Standish, an undistinguished poetry researcher who believes a unique scholarship will provide a leg up on his career—not to mention a welcome reprieve from the daily haranguing from his pregnant wife Jean, already suffering from an early miscarriage. In short order, Standish has accepted an offer from Esswood House, a little-known British library known for supporting D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot, among others. Standish’s fascination is with a distant relative, Isobel Standish, who published a single volume of poetry in her lifetime, Crack, Whack and Wheelin 1912. Straub does inject his characteristically subterranean sense of ordinary menace into Standish’s journey, starting with a short but near-violent encounter with the locals at a pub. “The fellow was murdered there,” the barman tells him offhandedly. Then we’re off into the labyrinthine Esswood House, tended by the even more impenetrable custodian Robert Wall. There, as Standish begins to unravel the mysteries of Isobel’s life, he starts to become a bit unraveled himself, obsessing over his wife’s impending birth and experiencing dark and disturbing visions. The writing is fine, but the story folds in on itself without ever really delivering either a genuine scare or emotional resonance. Like the novella form itself, it’s a hard act to characterize—neither a true ghost story nor an Edgar Allen Poe–like portrait of a psychological schism.

An intriguing artifact for hardcore fans but an unremarkable entry point for new readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-605698-304-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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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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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.


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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