Meticulous and candid, this slow-moving volume about small-town life should attract aficionados of American history.

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You'll Like Linton

An isolated farm boy discovers the wonderful—and war-torn—world outside his fence.

In this debut autobiographical novel from psychologist and memoirist Cromwell (A Time in China, 2014, etc.), Hanno Buchwald—the author’s fictional counterpart—experiences the aches and joys of a distinctly Midwestern coming-of-age. Arranged out of temporal order, the book’s 30 chapters bob and dive between Hanno’s birth in Linton, Indiana, in 1928 and an early adulthood marked by the anxieties of a nation in crisis. Opening with Hanno’s first memory—a peaceful, primordial recollection of a field of blue—the text soon traces the definite arc of a human life. Seemingly nothing is left out of this chronicle of Hanno’s upbringing. Included are events of traditional significance, like the uncomfortable funeral of his grandfather, as well as incidents that are refreshingly unusual (Hanno, with his parents’ guidance, learns male anatomical terms). In Linton, where residents embrace the chores of country homesteading and the mores of Christian small-town life, Hanno finds himself not only toiling at farmwork like milking and butchering, but also caring for his Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather, who often wanders in search of “home.” Love and sexuality are frequent themes, from the genital exploration Hanno partakes in with his childhood friend Jenny Lee in the grape arbor to the romantic pursuit of Hanno and his friend by a burly but gentle soldier who arrives in Linton as part of the U.S. government’s efforts to drum up support for war bonds. Though chock-full of intimate memories and highly specific, sometimes odd, details—like the first time Hanno sees a public latrine—the book reaches its apotheosis in its striking portrait of the Pearl Harbor attack and its effect on Linton. One of Hanno’s elder twin brothers, Jay, perishes in the battle. The third-person narration, endearing and unpretentious, unspools like a fireside tale. But the emphasis on matter-of-factness over dramatic rhetoric eventually becomes a drawback, as does the account’s sluggish pace. While the book’s overarching purpose is difficult to discern, the reader should nevertheless enjoy the precision and insight that pervade the story as well as the historical details.

Meticulous and candid, this slow-moving volume about small-town life should attract aficionados of American history.

Pub Date: July 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-7101-3

Page Count: 374

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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