An expressionistic, sometimes-murky mystery that engagingly depicts communal fears and the people caught up in them.


Barrow's Point

After a string of murders, the small city of Barrow’s Point, Wisconsin, begins to simmer with distrust and unease, and the McGregor family gets caught up in the tenuous moment in Schirmer’s (Living with Strangers, 1991) novel. 

Police Detective Reed McGregor and his partner (and childhood friend) Casey Saunders are called to a crime scene at a row of warehouses, where the body of a young man has been found. The victim was a newcomer to Barrow’s Point, and due to a general lack of evidence, the case soon goes cold. But when more victims are discovered, a terrifying pattern is confirmed: the killer is targeting young gay men. The murders soon fade into the background, though, as the dynamics of the McGregor family step into view and the story explores the motive and aftermath of hostility. Early on, Iris McGregor is consumed with worry that her two gay sons, Reed and Christian, will be next to fall victim to the killer, especially because of their visibility in town; in addition to Reed being a police officer, Christian is an activist. Reed sways with indecision over whether Casey could possibly be attracted to him, and he struggles with how to navigate his ambiguous friendship with his ex-girlfriend, Maggie Saunders, who’s now married to Casey. The third McGregor son, Eddie, is unsure about his sexuality and overcompensates with all the denial and aggression that he can muster. He tries to shame his brother Christian, hangs around with a disreputable crowd, and, in his confusion, commits terrible acts. Like Eddie, other inhabitants of Barrow’s Point sometimes seem to get carried away, against their will, by the things they say and do, and this state of cognitive dissonance isn’t always satisfying as a narrative device. The slow pace of the story, though, can be compelling, as it suits the tone of uncertainty and stress that marks the relationships between various characters. There are also isolated, seemingly inexplicable episodes that add a deliciously tense thread to the novel’s psychological fabric; for example, at one point, Maggie finds “a beguiling blue egg” inscribed with a mysterious message. Later, the original, murderous hook returns in a single, razor-sharp tableau.

An expressionistic, sometimes-murky mystery that engagingly depicts communal fears and the people caught up in them.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940724-07-2

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Gival Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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