A lightweight, entertaining Broadway yarn.

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The Role

A young New York actor finds his life imitating his art in this gay theater romance.

Mason Burroughs, an insecure, pudgy, 25-year-old actor, struggles for bit parts in Manhattan.   The only bright spot in his life is his relationship with live-in boyfriend Eric, a nice video game programmer. Through luck and connections, Mason lands the second lead in a Broadway period piece called Masque, featuring Elizabethan palace intrigue, knife play, lengthy dying soliloquies, and a hot-and-heavy bisexual love triangle. Playing the seductive Count Ezio to Mason’s ingénue soldier Caleb is Kevin Caldwell, a gorgeous, charming, selfish actor whom Mason had a fierce, unrequited crush on years ago and with whom he will now have to play a climactic nudish sex scene. Adding to the pressure are an obnoxious understudy who looks exactly like Mason and has obvious designs on his part and Kevin’s body; a stern personal trainer who gets Mason in shape with man-killing workouts and revolting organic teas; and an imperious director who puts Mason through bizarre nude theater exercises. (There is a lot of nudity in the book, not all of it germane to character development.) Mason sheds pounds and adds muscle, builds his acting chops, and spends rehearsals making out with Kevin onstage—and finds his erstwhile lust now earnestly returned. Will he dump poor Eric and succumb to the rakish Kevin like Caleb swooning for Ezio? The steamy debut novel adds an overlay of confused identity to what is essentially a fantasia, with a Cinderella makeover swirling Mason into the limelight and the affections of a previously unattainable hunk; it’s sprightly but not too deep. Mason himself is not a compelling protagonist and his relationship with Eric feels dull and bickery. Kevin, an Adonis with intriguing hidden wounds, is the more captivating and actually less narcissistic figure, and there’s a splendid supporting cast of colorful, well-drawn secondary characters. The play-within-the novel delivers an absurd plot and bad dialogue (“My liege, I have been sent from the fronts of battle, to deliver unto you, this message”), but the book offers absorbing, lively procedures, from line-reading and note-dispensing to costume-fitting and investor-schmoozing. Pearson is a fluent writer, and though his lead can’t really carry the production, the show around him grabs the reader’s attention.

A lightweight, entertaining Broadway yarn.

Pub Date: May 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59021-518-0

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 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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