OFF TRACK

A Vancouver-based wholesaler’s life takes a nosedive after his best friend kicks the bucket at the peak of his physical, emotional and financial success.

  Aaron Canducci was born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, predisposing him to an acceptance of mysticism and various faiths. Consequently, he’s a very spiritual guy. And it’s a good thing, too, considering his wife has all but abandoned him for her job in New York; major changes are at hand in the distribution company he owns; and his successful, seemingly healthy best friend, Hy Rosen, has just died in his middle age, leaving behind his family and wealth. When Hy visits Aaron from the other side in a dream, he confirms the existence of the afterlife with a secret message Aaron must pass along to Hy’s wife. Aaron obsesses over the meaning of the message but can’t seem to find time to decode it amid his struggles to overcome his drinking problem, betting on horse races at the Bookie Joint, visiting his psychic shrink friend for therapy sessions, volunteering with the Salvation Army and warding off the mob. All of this occurs before Aaron learns that his wife has been hiding a lesbian lover from him for four years, his daughter was raped more than two years ago and there’s a secret, dangerous branch of his family he’s not sure he should get involved with. And then there’s Aaron’s struggle to return to the dating scene after 25 years of marriage. Spevakow crams so many threads into this ambitious, fast-paced novel that it’s difficult to pin down the main plotline or relate to the characters. Most of them lack distinguishing characteristics, so mobsters seem more passive-aggressive than ruthless and Aaron is so even-keeled that his spirituality might as well be complacency. The robotic-sounding dialogue doesn’t help. As Aaron’s daughter unloads her sexual past on him, he jokes, “You could make me a strong drink. No, I’m just kidding. You know I’m not supposed to drink.” Still, Aaron’s many exploits intersect in a web of harrowing misadventures that are impossible to stop reading, most notably his dealings with gangster Darius Singh, the man responsible for Aaron’s first drink, at age 14, that would lead to most of his adult problems.   A compelling story of spirituality, emotional desolation and forgiveness whose characters could use some life.  

 

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1449009915

Page Count: 223

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2012

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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