A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.

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OWL ISLAND

Coburn’s beautifully realized second novel is a perceptive assessment of what women do in love.

Beautiful, strong-willed Phoebe, owner of a fish-net company, lives an agreeable life on a Puget Sound island. Her daughter Laurienne works in Seattle writing computer code, and artist Ivan, long-time friend, now lover, lives a few houses down the road. A satisfying existence, but over the course of the novel, Phoebe begins to realize hers has been a guarded life since her affair with Whit Traynor decades ago. And the reason for this fresh evaluation: A new neighbor has moved in, the now-famous director Whitney Traynor, with young wife Jasmine in tow. His appearance sends Phoebe reeling back to her enshrined memories of their relationship, the watershed moment of Phoebe’s life. As a precocious teenager in 1960s Seattle, Phoebe became entranced by a local radio deejay, the charismatic Whit, who seemed to be speaking directly to Phoebe. She wrote him smart, seductive letters, filled with whimsy and innuendo, and he replied in turn, the two never meeting until Phoebe turned 18. Phoebe proudly worked on Whit’s first feature film (suitably about artist’s muse Kiki de Montparnasse), and while he credits Phoebe for inspiration, she did much of the work. When the two split up—a messy affair of cheating and rebound romances—Phoebe is pregnant and unsure if Whit is the father. Coburn smartly reveals only the Whit that young Phoebe sees—stylish, brilliantly idiosyncratic and in love. Not until later does middle-aged Phoebe (and the reader) perceive an altogether different Whit, unprotected by the flush of youth. Now Phoebe guardedly hopes that Whit is still in love with her. Why would he move to the island? Why would he call Jasmine a replacement Phoebe? And who else but Whit could have sent her all those magical gifts—a handful of rubies, a hummingbird’s nest—through the years? This sad fantasy of true love reunited soon gives way to Phoebe gaining some hard-earned insight about her own willingness to hide in someone’s shadow.

A richly conceived portrait of memory and identity.

Pub Date: June 13, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-48763-X

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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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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