There are spasms of brilliance, but too much of this book reads like a private joke—good if you’re in on it, less good if...



Postmodern novelist REYoung (Unbabbling, 1997) returns with a madcap, shaggy dog tale set along the U.S.–Mexico border.

Throw Under the Volcano into a blender with Cat’s Cradle, Finnegans Wake, Pedro Páramo, and the collected works of Charles Bowden, and you have something approaching REYoung’s latest. His borderland is a Trump-ian dream, cleaved by a wall 20 feet tall: “Black, impassive, impassable, it stretched into infinity in the east and in the west.” Yet the desert is an odd thing here, with waist-high snowdrifts in the place of sand dunes, crisscrossed as ever by the Border Patrol, smugglers, and other intruders in the silence of the wasteland. One of the more loquacious of them is Margarito, tutor to an odd character named the Snowman, who is in this hot yet snowy country for reasons that seem to have something to do with a movie directed by a Sam Peckinpah reincarnation named Boone Weller. Is Snowman really a method actor named Billy, a scandal back in Hollywood hot on his heels, or is he someone else, or is the whole shebang a grand and glorious hallucination? Judging by some of the characters’ diets—one, Young writes, possessed of bloodshot eyes “infused with hydrocarbons, THC, methamphetamine, nicotine, malt liquor, Ice”—the possibilities for the last are quite real. And as for the capitalized Ice, well, there’s a reason the desert is white and that the character is named Snowman. Young exults in language, sometimes to the point of indiscipline; the storyline, opaque to begin with, is often buried in sheer verbiage. Often he hits on some nicely philosophical aperçus and mots justes—“Does God feel sorrow and remorse for all the little tortures he she it has devised for us…?” “everyone was rolling up joints, spliffs, fucking industrial-sized marijuana smokestacks, everybody laughing and talking manic stoned bullshit”—but just as often the yarn staggers under the weight of its own cleverness.

There are spasms of brilliance, but too much of this book reads like a private joke—good if you’re in on it, less good if not.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978162891446

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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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.


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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