PUTTERING ABOUT IN A SMALL LAND

The diffidence of the title is appropriate: this is a subtle, minimalist portrait of two American couples circa 1953 by the late Dick—a writer best known for his sardonic, pyrotechnic science fiction. Only the second of his early realistic novels to see print (Confessions of a Crap Artist appeared in 1975), this is set in postwar southern California, with excellent flashbacks to a Forties milieu of around-the-clock defense plants and the dogged, weary workers who staffed them. Dick's central characters, Roger and Virginia Lindahl, have gravitated to California from wartime Washington, D.C. Rootless and ill-matched, they stay shakily together until their small son's enrollment in a private school creates a crisis. Dick, whose message throughout his career had to do with the dangers of totalitarianism (seen by him in a thousand guises), once said the menace lurked even in private relationships—whenever "someone. . .is more powerful than you." Perhaps this conviction inspired his focus on the shifting balance of power in the marriage of Roger and Virginia Lindahl. Roger is an Arkansas farm boy, a drifter and dreamer who has already abandoned one family and who sticks with Virginia after the war only because his overbearing, Boston-bred mother-in-law sets him up in his own TV sales and repair shop. His all-too-poised wife Virginia, on the other hand, is a soi disant aristocrat involved in "therapeutic dance," unconsciously hostile not only to Roger but also to her small son. When Roger and Virginia meet another couple with children in this son's private school—uptight Chic Bonner and his slatternly but rather appealing wife Liz—both couples begin to disintegrate. Though Dick never quite brings off Roger Lindahl (he emerges as likeable but too habitually cerebral to be convincing as an uneducated "natural"), he nonetheless writes perceptively of his California setting. If published when written during the 1950's, chances are that this distinctly uncommercial character study would have sunk without a trace. Its strongest appeal in 1985 is likely to be its sketchy but memorable re-creation of the real ambiance of the war and postwar years—an era that popular myth has already eroded into a series of "Happy Days" clich‚s.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1985

ISBN: 0765316943

Page Count: 333

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1985

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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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