A sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.

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DUCK AND COVER

ELEVEN SHORT STORIES

A set of stories about kids in a seemingly wholesome small town that’s tinged with darkness.

Elliott’s (Runners on Running, 2012, etc.) characters are young boys and a few girls, most of whom are growing up in the town of Milford, Illinois, during the 1950s and ’60s. Their lives are filled with schoolwork, sports, and crushes until subtle crises undermine their complacency. In “The Faulkner Sentence,” for example, a beloved English teacher revels in diagramming sentences until a student challenges her to parse a 1,300-word William Faulkner passage. A boy trudges through a snowstorm toward the hospital where his mother lies dying of cancer in “The Big Snow,” and a high school track star, in “Running God,” gets ground down by his coach’s sadistic training regimen. In “The White Sox Team Card,” a trio of delinquents plots to steal a precious baseball card that a Chicago gangster covets, and in “Lucky,” a boy discovers that his perennial good fortune comes at the expense of his polio-stricken sister—and he tries to compensate by courting disaster. A young girl marvels at the northern lights and dreads her strange, drunken uncle in “Aurora Borealis”; a boy reacts to the Sputnik 1 launch in “Propellants” by building an amateur rocket called Red Scare; and in the title story, an eighth-grader discovers a classmate taking refuge in his family’s fallout shelter during the Cuban missile crisis. In this debut collection of stories, some of which have previously appeared in literary magazines, Elliott crafts characters who are mainly ordinary youngsters in ordinary circumstances who feel slightly uneasy in their skins—overmatched by expectations or possessing unrealistic desires. Often, these tensions are played for gentle comedy, but just as often, the author pulls the rug out from under readers by swerving into disaster. Elliott writes with a supple, naturalistic style that’s also psychologically rich: “George—beautiful, vulnerable George—with lifetimes behind those lovely, hooded eyes and smiling his all-knowing smile,” muses a girl besotted with Beatles heartthrob George Harrison in “Mania.” The result is a vivid evocation of postwar America that’s both halcyon and haunted.

A sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72318-356-0

Page Count: 168

Publisher: RichElliottProductions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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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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