A vast, cerebral account of an unstable teenager’s attempt to find redemption.

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DUSK AND EMBER

Jacoby’s (There Are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes, 2012, etc.) literary prequel tells the story of young man’s journey to a friend’s wake, set over the course of an eventful evening.

It’s December 1981, and Richard Issych has been having a hard time. The 19-year-old lives with his overbearing parents and works the third shift at the Sekula Tool and Die foundry in Eastlake, Ohio; he takes five or six quaaludes per day. Maybe it’s the drugs, or maybe there’s a deeper cause—he has a history of suicide attempts—but Richard’s thoughts are often jumbled in a way that makes it difficult for him make decisions, or even keep track of what’s going on. When he arrives at work one night and learns that one of his co-workers, Dale Smith, has murdered fellow co-worker Melvin Skinner, whatever grip he had on reality gets that much looser—because Richard had picked up Dale and driven him to Melvin’s house, and along the way, Dale said that he intended to commit murder. Richard decides to attend Melvin’s wake, catching a ride with other co-workers Jeff, JoJo, and Dannyboy. The trip to the wake becomes a quixotic adventure across the rusty Cleveland metropolitan area, through Richard’s memories and into the depths of his own psyche. Throughout this novel, Jacoby’s prose, which closely follows Richard’s internal monologue, is dense and dynamic—often swerving off in unexpected directions before doubling back on itself: “He was a confusion of thoughts; he broke his brain in bits on needle thoughts, needless thoughts. He had to calm down, calm himself down, think, he told himself—think what you’re trying to think.” This makes for moments of wonderful lyricism, but it also slows the pace to a crawl at times—and, given the novel’s length of more than 450 pages, readers may find this somewhat discouraging. The book is conceptually impressive, however, and fans of epic postmodernist novels may find themselves enthralled by it.

A vast, cerebral account of an unstable teenager’s attempt to find redemption.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 371

Publisher: Cloud Books

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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