Darkly entrancing tales whose pages bleed struggle, trauma and madness.

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DEMYANSK

MORE TALES FROM THE RUSSIAN WILDERNESS 1941-45

A new edition of the late author’s macabre stories set along the Eastern Front during World War II.

A desperate German SS officer stumbles naked from a frigid river, trying to flee the Russian tanks murdering his countrymen on the other side. A Ukrainian Jew claws her way through a pit of human corpses to escape a massacre doled out by Nazi machine guns. A war-weary German soldier has a strange vision of Christ while nearby his comrades are hacked to pieces by horse-mounted Cossacks. These are just a few of the grim scenes that make up Schneider’s (Madness Without End, 1994, etc.) second volume of short stories. Drawing from the epic clash between Nazism and Stalinism, the author masterfully weaves history and fiction to create a nightmarish vision of “cauldron” warfare—tiny pockets where encircled Germans hold out against the Red Army. In the midst of the blood, mud and terror, the book’s characters confront the chaos of war with only the slightest grip on their sanity. Broader themes of duty and vengeance seep to the surface. A German officer assigned the task of killing Jews finds the job distasteful, but reconciles it with cold professionalism—“To rid one’s self of one’s enemies was a responsibility that had to be borne.” A member of an all-female Russian tank crew witnesses the grisly retribution on Germans who committed atrocities when the war was going their way. Whether there is a real victor in these stories remains unclear as both sides emerge polluted from the conflict. The author’s use of simile to depict the horrors of battle is a stylistic achievement—dead Germans lie with “shoulders rising up from the ice like men caught turning over in their sleep,” while executed Russians dangle from long ropes “like the strings of a harp.” Some readers may be put off by the book’s violence and abrupt shifts in perspective. But the stories mirror their setting—the bewildering, terrible meat-grinder that was the Eastern Front.

Darkly entrancing tales whose pages bleed struggle, trauma and madness.

Pub Date: June 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0964238916

Page Count: 339

Publisher: Neue Paradies/NPV

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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