The wry humor and raw emotional truth of JJ’s journey will have readers rooting for him from death to eternity.

SHUFFLED OFF

A GHOST'S MEMOIR

When 29-year-old janitor JJ Lynch is tragically killed by a drunk driver, he uses tools found in a university lab to communicate with those he’s left behind.

McCarter has turned the grief memoir on its head by exploring loss from the first-person point of view of his newly departed protagonist, struggling to shuffle off this mortal coil. In life, JJ befriended Tamara, a scientist experimenting with electromagnetism in an effort to reach her murdered fiancé; after his own untimely passing, JJ uses Tamara’s experiment to send her a series of “Transmissions” from the other side. This storytelling device is original, and JJ’s transmissions are well written and often irreverent. In between, though, McCarter includes sketchily written “Interview Transcripts,” in which JJ’s loved ones react to his messages from beyond. Here, the author misses the opportunity to flesh out the experience of those left behind, more deeply linking the novel’s frame—the laboratory experiment—with JJ’s “memoir.” There are other missed opportunities, as well. Tamara’s fiancé died trying to tell her something, but this intriguing thread is left unresolved, as is another memorable episode in which new spirit JJ is threatened by a gang of ghostly bullies. McCarter has grounded his paranormal narrative in the “reality” of numerous accounts of near-death experiences, such as the “silver cord” connecting the soul to the “meat,” or body, but there is much for the rookie ghost to learn on the fly. While coming to terms with his accident, JJ is consumed by flames of rage as he seeks retribution for his death, sinks into a vivid, horrifying slough of despond known as the bardo (a Buddhist concept) and fights desperately to intervene as his best friend is about to be murdered. McCarter’s spirit world can also be playful and fun, particularly his account of the “Midnight Circle,” at which a motley assortment of ghosts gather to perform Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett. It is to the author’s credit that, even though his main character is “extra corporeal,” JJ’s heartrending passage, kicking and screaming, through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief for his lost life, is relatable for any reader who has lost a loved one too soon.

The wry humor and raw emotional truth of JJ’s journey will have readers rooting for him from death to eternity.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0964209626

Page Count: 283

Publisher: Little Hummingbird

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 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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