An intensely drawn fictional study of an explosive issue.



A military psychologist deployed to Guantanamo Bay is dismayed by the brutal treatment of prisoners.

Capt. Thomas Phillips is a psychologist in the National Guard assigned to Guantanamo Bay, partly on the basis of his experience dealing with Muslim prisoners within the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Initially, his principal challenge is his own isolation and the morale of his fellow serviceman—the tedium of the passing days and the separation of family is a constant burden. Phillips takes to fishing and exercise as diversions and excitedly waits for emails from his mother and fiancee. He grows discomfited by the treatment of the detainees, subjected to restrictive shackles, food deprivation euphemistically labeled hunger strikes, overmedication, and other manner of “environmental manipulation.” Debut author McMackin displays impressive restraint in allowing Phillips’ revelations to slowly unfurl, investing them with a palpable power. A prisoner captured in Afghanistan, Hassan al-Abdi, believed to have valuable intelligence linking Iraq and the Taliban, requests a meeting with Phillips, who is then cajoled into becoming a participant in his increasingly aggressive interrogations. The justification to forcibly extract information from al-Abdi only increases as the American invasion of Iraq looks more like a foregone conclusion. Phillips is caught between the satisfaction of his duty and the moral responsibility he feels to al-Abdi, who reveals himself to be far too complex a person to be captured by villainous caricature. McMackin’s chief strength is the depth of his characterizations. He explicitly avoids the depiction of straw men in an effort to limn the murkiness of the moral situation Phillips confronts. The prose is plain, unembellished by literary invention, but serves as a good vehicle for Phillip’s thoughtful pragmatism. The plotline is a familiar one, even formulaic and shopworn, but nonetheless executed skillfully and provocatively. And since the topic is one that refuses to vanish from contemporary public debate—the moral defensibility of coercive interrogations—the story still seems fresh and relevant, despite its familiarity. 

An intensely drawn fictional study of an explosive issue.

Pub Date: April 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-985670-57-0

Page Count: 210

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2018

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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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