A complicated and promising debut that spoofs the current health culture craze even as it anticipates its appalling...

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SUICIDE CLUB

In a frighteningly plausible future, the economy revolves around the currency of health, life spans are potentially eternal, and the new have-nots are born with poverty encoded in their genes.

Lea Kirino is a career Lifer. At 100 years old, she is already high up the ladder at the Healthfin fund, where she spends her days working with clients whose fortunes are invested in the organ trade—mostly hearts, lungs, and livers. A stringent devotee of the shadowy Ministry’s recommendations for maximum life expectancy, Lea and her equally genetically pedigreed fiance, Todd, are perfectly poised to join the long-rumored Third Wave. If chosen to receive newly developed life-prolonging treatments, Lea’s expected life span of 300 years might be extended indefinitely through a combination of organ replacement, enhancements, nutrient and exercise regimes, and, of course, strict avoidance of cortisol-increasing activities like listening to music or looking at art. Yet, even with immortality at stake, Lea can’t let go of the complications of her past—her brother’s death, her own violent impulses, the disappearance of her “antisanct” father, Kaito, who turned his back on the family 88 years ago and hasn’t been seen since. When Kaito suddenly returns, his radical influence stirs up Lea’s own unruly impulses and exposes her to scrutiny from the Ministry. His presence also has the unintended consequence of introducing her into the inner circle of the Suicide Club—a group of well-connected rebels who choose the crime of death over the sentence of eternal life—forcing Lea to decide if living means the experience of life or adherence to the cult of immortality that has replaced all other forms of culture in this speculative New York of the future. Heng expertly threads a ribbon of dread through her glittering vistas and gleaming characters; however, the plot is so solidly foreshadowed that the climax, when it comes, feels almost preordained. This speaks to the intricacy of the world Heng has created and sets a dark mirror against the robotic bureaucracy of the Ministry's oversight that assigns at birth "an algorithm [that] decides who lives and who doesn't" so as not to waste resources on anyone with subpar genetic potential. Unfortunately, it also undercuts the author's considerable skill at rendering her characters in all their solid, bodily reality by making their actions seem less like startling acts of free will and more like functions of an overweening plot.

A complicated and promising debut that spoofs the current health culture craze even as it anticipates its appalling culmination.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-18534-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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