A clever but taxingly overdone comedic performance.




In this wildly farcical, speculative tale, a decadeslong rivalry between friends results in the expulsion of Texas from the United States.

In 2027, Peter Phelt, the governor of the Lone Star State, receives some extraordinary news: The other 49 states have voted Texas, which they call a “monotonous inanity,” out of the union. Puerto Rico is immediately elevated to statehood and takes the Texas name, so Phelt is left with no other choice but to rename his territory; it’s now “the Republic of North Mexico.” However, the fate of Texas is not just the result of its insufferableness—Phelt’s woes have been orchestrated by Pastor Arlen Bob Yates, the founder of the Church of the P-Free Sabbath. Yates’ megachurch is not only wildly wealthy, but also influential—he controls all of Texas’ state politics and dominates the FBI and IRS as well. His ultimate goal is “taking over the world,” but his most impassioned desire seems to be to ruin Phelt, in particular: “I came to Texas…to amass the fortune I would need to destroy you when you were at the pinnacle of your career, because you’ve ruined my life,” he says. When Yates and Phelt were friends as children in Indiana, Yates learned that they were switched at birth and raised by each other’s biological parents. Debut author Ayer confusingly jumps back and forth in time in this narrative, conveying not only the history of Phelt and Yates’ personal rivalry, but of the state of Texas as well. The plot is ingeniously inventive, and Yates’ character, a “master dissembler” who creates a memorably vulgar lampoon of a popular church, is a riveting caricature. The author unambiguously announces his literary influences—there are references to both Jonathan Swift and Kurt Vonnegut here—but the novel is more manically ecstatic than comedic, and it lacks the astute social commentary of those luminaries’ works. Also, Ayer seems intent on packing a punchline into nearly every sentence—a style that feels more vaudevillian than satirical and that is ultimately exhausting. 

A clever but taxingly overdone comedic performance. 

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-17773-0

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Milwood Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2019

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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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