An inventive and ultimately thought-provoking discussion about a modern Avatar of God and the accidental craze he spawns.

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SCHWARTZ OF NEW YORK

A highly unorthodox interfaith dialogue focuses on a new Messiah.

The latest from Spevakow (Off Track, 2009) takes the form of a protracted, multipart dialogue springing up over the biggest news in the world: the appearance of a new Messiah, right in present-day New York City—even though that luminary is his own doubting Thomas. The unfortunate person involved is Jesus Christian Schwartz, the 40-year-old founder of the public relations firm of Schwartz, Sushi, and Whitefish. As the story opens, he’s recently been going through a rough time in his life. He would lay the blame on his girlfriend, Cynthia Carp, who’s been pressuring him for marriage and a family, but the real culprit might be even more unsettling than a demanding lover. Jesus has recently begun hearing the voice of God in his head even though he’s sure the deity doesn’t exist. Clients have begun noticing his angry retorts to this mysterious voice; they are afraid it’ll start to hurt the business. Jesus’ own fears begin to run a little deeper as he accedes to his friends’ demands to see a psychiatrist, a man named Judas Karius. Judas quickly becomes convinced that Jesus is the divine lord he’s been awaiting all these years (“Sorry I screwed up last time,” he tells Jesus, in one of this short book’s many deadpan zingers). Joining the spirited discussion—which the author renders entirely in dialogue—is God. The deity’s not only disarmingly frank, but he also outlines a centuries-old plan by which humanity is aided by a series of “Avatars” possessing supernatural powers—of whom Jesus is only the latest. Spevakow’s narrative playfulness is often very captivating as he has his characters explore all the spiritual ramifications of the Messiah’s new mission, even though Jesus insists that his first message to the waiting world “will definitely not be religious.” While enough of the text is self-consciously precious that it will likely bother many readers, the author’s wit and sincere tone of inquiry win out in the end.

An inventive and ultimately thought-provoking discussion about a modern Avatar of God and the accidental craze he spawns.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-64045-715-7

Page Count: 98

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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