A rough-and-tumble combination of science fiction, crime and romance that ultimately succeeds in salvaging the best from...

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HUMAN

A NOVEL

First-time novelist Berke examines the tenuous relationship between the mental and the corporeal in a tale of political tug-of-war between the secret operatives of two world superpowers.

Elijah Smith, the founder of the scientific company SmithCorp, appears to have crested in old age and begun his descent into death. With the help of the precocious but scarred Dr. Bayron and Hermelinda—Smith’s nurse and lover—death isn’t the only option for Smith. Using materials imported from a Russian researcher who attempted to recreate the mind of a deceased government agent, Bayron sets out to reconstruct a digital model of Smith’s brain that effectively preserves his consciousness in a “prosthetic mind.” Though the experiment accomplishes its goal, both Smith and Bayron soon discover the dangerous knowledge contained in Smith’s hybrid mind: The Russian operative, whose memories Smith inherited, was one of three individuals who knew a code necessary to unlock an extensive nuclear warhead arsenal. What follows is a rollicking traipse through espionage stings, gunfights, and meetings between friends and enemies as two covert units, one American and one Russian, go to great lengths to protect their national—and, as it turns out, personal—interests. Despite the violence and manpower, however, it is the disembodied Smith who plays the biggest role, in a way that makes a strong claim about the potential drawbacks of immortality in a world where “once you are quantifiable, you aren’t human anymore.” Berke’s prose alternates between straightforwardness and meditation; in spite of its clockworklike plot, the novel manages to speak directly to the philosophical, theological and biological paradoxes inherent in the idea of a human living past physical death. By the end of the novel, it’s clear that, at least for Smith, being human is not merely a matter of chemical processes, but a matter of doing the right thing.

A rough-and-tumble combination of science fiction, crime and romance that ultimately succeeds in salvaging the best from each genre to comment meaningfully on the perplexing—and often uncertain—nature of human identity.

Pub Date: Dec. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0984950706

Page Count: 346

Publisher: MultiModoMedia

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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