An unfocused tale of a college kid’s attempts to re-create the decade he missed.


Just Missed the Sixties


Keith (Irreverent Shorts, 2013) offers a lighthearted romp through the college high jinks of a man born a little too late.

Joseph Roman grew up watching the turmoil of the 1960s and basking in that decade’s musical legacy and cultural optimism. Unfortunately for him, the ’70s don’t share quite the same ethos. As a sophomore studying biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1973, young Joe is more interested in re-creating the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll lifestyle he idolizes—mostly the sex and drugs part—than he is in applying himself to his studies. He often skips classes to hang around the dorm or in the nearby woods with his posse. Still, he’s a decent student who earns good grades. He’s also popular: His tricked-out dorm room features a fan rigged to prevent marijuana smoke from drifting into the hall, making it the go-to destination for his fellow Hyer Hall denizens. He spends his days planning pranks, getting high and trying to date the girl of his dreams. His pranks, however, predictably run afoul of the stern dorm director, and before long, Joe is banished from the dorms—and the comfortable life he’d built there. But our hero soon finds a new living arrangement and a lucrative source of income. The scattered plot progresses as Joe spreads his wisdom of the hippie counterculture to a receptive, but ultimately apathetic, group of friends. Keith’s light tone telegraphs the fact that Joe will land on his feet, and his adventures are often humorous. However, he sometimes parodies popular song lyrics in a misguided attempt to inject additional levity into the proceedings (“One pill helps with foosball, / And one pill makes you limp”); random illustrations also appear throughout the text, seemingly for the same purpose, but add nothing. The prose is often clunky and unsubtle; for example, the lone African-American dorm resident introduces himself as “one of those highly sought-after, token Negro dudes from the inner city of Milwaukee.” Overall, this paean to the ’60s could’ve done with more nuance and some tighter editing.

An unfocused tale of a college kid’s attempts to re-create the decade he missed.

Pub Date: March 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615918655

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Robert Keith

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

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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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