A highly creative, if meandering, adventure.

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The Jolly Coroner

A PICARESQUE NOVEL

Debut author Canterel offers a surreal novel about an unlikely coroner.

Welcome to the city of Hokum. Although it’s ostensibly modern, in parts, it’s also a place “dotted with the typical gothic horrors and irredeemable folklore of many small southern cities.” It’s subsumed by invasive kudzu and a population of Mexican workers from “the nearby alfalfa plantations.” The city’s coroner, a philosophical, heavyset, hard-drinking man named Billy Rubino, is an antihero if there ever was one. As he investigates the possible murder of a man at a local motel that’s known for gay hookups (where “The hallways rang with deep moans of ecstasy at all hours of the day or night”), he finds himself at odds with his colleagues. They insist that he rule out foul play to simplify the case, but he feels uneasy about such a hasty conclusion. Meanwhile, a Polish man named Basyli, who’s erroneously been declared dead due to an identification mix-up, pleads with Billy for help to escape his state of nonexistence. The book’s drug use, obscure classical music references, and assortment of local weirdos depict Hokum as alternately surreal and vulgar (“you could no longer walk under a bridge downtown without the fetor of human urine”). The story is part David Lynch, part comedy of errors, and readers will never quite know what will happen next. The scenes are loaded with surprises; however, they tend to overflow with excessive detail, which may frustrate some readers. Little is left to the imagination, allowing for vivid, if overdrawn, descriptions of such things as teeth and hands (“coriaceous hands resembled gorilla’s paws”). Nevertheless, as the plot becomes stranger, the fate of Billy and the town he serves remain very much up for grabs.  

A highly creative, if meandering, adventure. 

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-909122-81-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Acorn Independent Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

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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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