Ritter artfully and realistically depicts a rough road to adulthood with a wartime motif.

TOIL UNDER THE SUN

Coming-of-age experiences contrast with the Korean War in Ritter’s debut novel.

A single mother gives up her son, Timothy, for adoption, and the novel follows his life from childhood to adolescence and, finally, as a soldier in the Korean War. Throughout his life, Timothy struggles. Adoptive parents John and Martha do their best to raise him, but he falls in with two ne’er do wells, Wes and Raymond, who encourage bad behavior, theft and general nastiness. At various junctures in his youth, Timothy takes wrong turns, such as not visiting a potential girlfriend, instead choosing to get drunk. For some reason, as a teen, he is encouraged to babysit 6-year-old Cindy. Undaunted by his surly manner, she is kind to him and teaches him to waltz to Tchaikovsky. The music has a powerful effect, helping Timothy break out of his usual hostility and appreciate beauty. This scene is mirrored later when he helps a lost young Korean girl during the war; the music replays inside his head as he dances with her amid the rubble. Another parallel occurs when he encounters Jake, who helped his birth mother when she was desperate and alone, also aids Timothy in a similar fashion. While the narrative is strong in description, such as Timothy’s vision of a “shimmering paladin,” and in its dreamlike qualities, Timothy is a frustrating protagonist due to the poor choices he makes. When Humphrey is introduced as Timothy’s fellow Marine, the reader breathes a sigh of relief; he is the voice of sanity, reads Ecclesiastes (from which the book’s title is drawn) and actually listens to Timothy. Gunny Talbot, who leads the soldiers’ regiment, also is a mentor and offers guidance. The author has adopted children and his father fought in Korea, lending experience and believability to the subject, which is also enhanced by the author’s cited resources used in researching the war.

Ritter artfully and realistically depicts a rough road to adulthood with a wartime motif.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2006

ISBN: 978-1425920104

Page Count: 329

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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