An intricate and often beautiful magical realist treatment of the South.

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THE THROUGH

A debut literary novel tells the story of a couple confronted by surreal elements from the South’s troubled past.

Adrian Dussett is a woman haunted by her past. Molested as a child by a friend of her mother’s, she developed a shell to protect her inner self from the world even though this casing has kept her from finding happiness and love. After Katrina destroys her native New Orleans—her former abuser drowns and Adrian herself only escapes the flood by sawing her way onto her mother’s roof—she ends up in the quiet town of Northport, Alabama. From the outside, her life appears normal. She operates a charitable investment firm and lives with her supportive boyfriend, Ben Hughes. But Adrian begins to see things that she can’t explain to other people: a doppelgänger of her dead mother; a ghost ship sailing through the clouds; a cicada emerging fully formed from a cut in her palm. It might be madness or PTSD, but it might have something to do with the mysterious black town of Okahika—which seems to exist simultaneously in different states throughout the South—and the folklore associated with it. As Adrian and Ben suffer through intrusions into the life they’ve tried to build, they are pulled back into the checkered history of the region and their people, where the waters of African myth and American tragedy mingle in anticipation of the coming flood. Johnson writes in a lyrical prose that blends the vernacular voice with crisp images and an ear for music: “The area used to be a black neighborhood, but it’s just a vacant lot now. There are no buildings left for a haint to haunt, but if one popped out of the pokeweed berries and said how you be baby, I’d say awrite.” The narration jumps among Adrian, Ben, and the educational podcasts that he listens to—the influence of African masks on Picasso, the sculptures of Willie Cole. This grounds the magical realist elements of the plot in sensible (if not always reliable) narrators. The book is disjointed, fluid, and perhaps overstuffed with motifs, but its unpredictable turns and metafictional flourishes should appeal to fans of challenging literary novels.

An intricate and often beautiful magical realist treatment of the South.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Jaded Ibis Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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