BAD MEDICINE

Steadily entertaining second novel (after The Death of Bernadette Lefthand, not reviewed), about Western versus Navajo and Hopi medicine in the Southwest. The Navajo Reservation in northeastern Arizona near Four Corners is stricken by an unfamiliar, devastatingly swift disease that starts with a headache and kills in less than 48 hours. Can it be the result of archaeologists Sabine Vogel and Peter Campbell’s unearthing of a virus in sacred Navajo land? Is it the revenge of ghosts for the theft by Silas Slowtalker of a sacred treasure at the nearby Hopi Reservation’s Bear Clan, a tablet given in turn to Peter Campbell, who later took it to the Little Springs Trading Post to validate its rarity? Slowtalker’s vile deed also unearthed corpse powder, which fills the very air with bad medicine. Investigating is young Dr. Push Foster, of the Indian Health Services Hospital in HashkÇ, Navajo Nation, himself a mixed-blood Choctaw, who teams up with old buddy Dr. Sonny Brokeshoulder to check into the histories of the dead, who are all Navajo. Push eventually gets an analysis from Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control suggesting that the illness appears to be caused by a hantavirus carried by rodents, mainly mice. When he confers with terrifically wise old Navajo Clifford Lomaquaptewa about Atlanta’s report, Clifford says, “I don’t know. . . That sounds pretty superstitious, to me . . . blamin’ it on mice and some germs you can’t see.” And, in fact, the CDC’s research helps unravel only a part of the puzzle; also active, it would seem, is a skinwalker, a coyote who can shape-shift to human form and is a being of concentrated evil. After some tense showdowns, the villains get their comeuppances, but the line between Western and Indian medicine remains very vague. Great Indian lore in an ingenious medical gripper without the whole globe held in terror.

Pub Date: April 13, 1998

ISBN: 0-553-09969-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

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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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