A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

THE CALCULUS OF COINCIDENCE

A young man meticulously plans a yearslong plot to avenge his mother’s abuse at the hands of a powerful political figure.

Marci Davis is on the fast track to success. The Louisville native is among the first African American women to earn a degree from the University of Kentucky in the 1950s. She becomes a “key aide” to the state’s governor, Bentley Wellington, but this comes to an end after he brutally rapes and impregnates her. She moves to New Jersey to start a new life, even changing her name to Marci Davis Jeffries. Much later, in 1975, she tells her son, Sean, the truth about his conception, and he devotes himself to exacting revenge on his mother’s behalf. His plan is exasperatingly convoluted, however, which is typical of Hilliard’s meandering, ill-disciplined narrative. It involves Sean’s acquiring “an intimate working knowledge of the thoroughbred racing industry” in order to strike at the Wellingtons’ most successful holdings, “one of the premier breeding operations in the nation.” Even when the Wellington business empire falls on hard times, the breeding business is still a shining success, although Beau Bentley, Sean’s half brother, threatens to destroy it himself through his illegal financial dealings. Meanwhile, Jorge Hauptmann, one of Sean’s friends, discovers that the father who abandoned him as a child, Fabian, worked undercover against the Nazis during World War II and that his mother, Gretchen, was a Nazi collaborator. Jorge is reunited with his dad after Fabian learns that Gretchen is under threat from a “domestic far-right-wing political group with neo-Nazi elements.” These two seemingly incongruent storylines eventually intersect in a thoroughly unbelievable manner. Hilliard’s literary ambition is certainly impressive. Over the course of this book, he constructs a generationally sweeping tale and attempts to bind its disparate parts together with a single overarching theme: the corrosive power of family secrets. However, the story is excessively and frustratingly complex—there are far too many subplots, and the author’s seemingly endless cast of characters becomes a burden to the reader. As a result, the novel reads like a collection of short stories that seem to be connected by only the slightest of threads. Also, the author practically buries the reader under mountains of detail that are incidental to the story at hand. At one point, for example, he provides the biographies of a company’s board members; later on, he describes, with excruciating thoroughness, an official document that must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. To make matters worse, the prose doesn’t generate any feelings of authentic passion; instead of a vibrant human drama, it feels more like a still-life painting. This passage from a sex scene, for instance, somehow manages to be simultaneously lurid and mechanical: “ ‘Give it to me hard!...Piledrive me!...Ahhhhhhh!’ And then it was over. The sexual fireworks he’d just experienced set a really high bar for the pyrotechnics to come outside.”

A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-977217-59-2

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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