A flat novel with an interesting structure.



Jbara (Kahraman, 2009, etc.) tells the story of a female photographer in India searching for fulfillment in this fragmentary novel.

Shamyana’s father abandoned the family when she was young, and her relationship with her mother has always been distant. In high school, she discovers photography when her best friend, Shyam, shows her his new camera. Shyam makes his secret feelings for Shamyana known, and the two marry after graduation. Despite his conservative family, Shyam encourages Shamyana to pursue photography, which she sees as a way to access her confusing inner life. “My dream is to let the people see the world through my lens,” she says, to which he replies, “I have faith that you will succeed one day.” The young photographer eventually finds the marriage too constraining for her ambitions, and Shyam agrees to an amicable split. On a trip to Goa, she meets a hotel owner named Rohan with whom she senses immediate chemistry. A new friend sets her up with corporate shoots and magazine features, and her career burgeons. She gets mixed signals from Rohan, however, and when another man expresses interest in her, she marries him. But is it what she wants? Her nervous breakdown suggests otherwise. Jbara tells Shamyana’s story in a series of microchapters, many only a paragraph long. While some depict scenes or dialogue that advance the plot, others are lyrical snippets of the protagonist’s thoughts; from the chapter “Ignite Fire”: “This route is too confining for me to slither. I feel my senses ignite fire. That is seething in my soul. I was unable to be me. I repositioned myself. I felt my body incite fire. That is raging in my body. I can’t be me. I can’t be them.” Despite these windows of interiority, many characters and events feel stilted or flat, and Shamyana’s story elicits surprisingly little emotional investment from the reader. While the novel’s structure is ambitious and original, it’s not used effectively. Shamyana’s true self should be more accessible, and yet by the end of the novel, she still feels like a stranger.

A flat novel with an interesting structure.

Pub Date: May 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4505-3186-3

Page Count: 167

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 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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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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