A historical novel that fires off a few surprises.

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Death Poem

In McClements’ debut novel, an elderly veteran of the first world war reveals a lifetime of secrets, pain, and regret.

In 1974, a well-dressed man in his late 70s named Sean Devaney is contemplating committing suicide. Patrick Brennan, a dissolute stranger looking to perform a good deed, stumbles upon Devaney and intervenes. Over a bottle of Irish whiskey, Brennan coaxes Devaney into discussing his life story and the cause of his anguish. Devaney begins with his childhood as a poor farm boy in upstate New York. Through a combination of hard work and a bequest from a local patroness, Devaney is able to attend Columbia University with the goal of becoming a journalist. Devaney finds a circle of school pals, and together, they have the time of their lives. Their undergraduate fun comes to an end when the United States enters World War I, and the friends all enter the Marine Corps. Following boot camp, they are sent to France, where they encounter the horrors of trench warfare. Devaney, wounded in battle, begins A Farewell to Arms–style romance with a nurse named Lynn. However, this novel is a bit more complex than the classic war story it initially seems to be. Devaney and his friends encounter heinous crimes committed under the cover of the chaos of war. In the postwar years, the four veterans act to rectify these injustices. The plot is full of unexpected twists—even if they occasionally come about thanks to a deus ex machina—with street fights and armed combat providing plenty of action. McClements’ strong knowledge of history adds verisimilitude to these scenes. While Devaney is a strong, pathos-filled character, many of the secondary characters are thinly drawn, particularly female characters, who say things like “you are no gentleman, but you are somewhat handsome and quite dashing” and usually do nothing but sit around waiting for men to bed them or save them from other, coarser men. Ultimately, though, Devaney’s twisting path and tortured soul will keep readers engaged to the end.

A historical novel that fires off a few surprises. 

Pub Date: July 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6826-6

Page Count: 412

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 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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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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