An enjoyable beach read with a likable heroine.

SHADY PARK SECRETS

From the Shady Park Chronicles series , Vol. 3

This third installment of a series maintains the author’s satirical take on modern American suburban life while dealing with some serious societal problems.

The Shady Park characters return, with Nicole Ernst taking the starring role in this volume. Nicole is the seventh grade teacher who was accidentally shot at an open school board meeting convened to overturn its unfortunate decision to switch to fundamentalist textbooks. She also got into serious trouble when she discovered that Chelsea Grosbeck, the daughter of a wealthy real estate developer, had plagiarized her school essay. Now 37-year-old Nicole has been transferred to Northbrook High School, where she is teaching a group of generally disinterested, ill-informed teenagers. It doesn’t take long for her to run afoul of her new boss, Principal Matthew Higgenbottom, who has been dragging his feet authorizing delivery of the nonfundamentalist books ordered by the board. Nicole makes an end run around Higgenbottom, and the volumes suddenly arrive. But more trouble is on the way. Fifteen-year-old student Juan Moreno begins receiving unsolicited naked photographs on his cellphone from an eighth-grade girl, and suddenly Shady Park becomes engulfed in a sexting scandal. When one of these photos is sent to Nicole’s cellphone, she is drawn into a dangerous undercover police operation. Simultaneously, she becomes romantically involved with Ralph Novich, the relationship-shy editor of the Shady Park Ledger, whose wife left him for her Virginia-based true love: her first cousin. Keech’s (Shady Park Panic, 2018, etc.) narrative rests somewhere between Oscar Wilde and Desperate Housewives. From ostentatious McMansions to crooked politicians and religious zealots, little escapes the author’s sharp eye for hypocrisy and amusing excess. Here Keech describes Nicole feeding her cat: She “stopped by to serve Smokey some Cod, Sole, and Shrimp Paté in Florentine Sauce.” There are strange characters aplenty. Chief among them is Andre Smyth, a tenderhearted neurotic who can’t answer a simple question in less than a tangents-filled paragraph. Despite the quirky cast and more than a hint of melodrama, the author uses well-directed sarcasm to highlight some critical, real-world issues: anti-immigration fervor, anti-science mania, and child pornography. In addition, readers should find the story’s conclusion satisfying.

An enjoyable beach read with a likable heroine.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73305-240-5

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Real Nice Books

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2019

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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