A melancholy reflection on one man’s life, highlighted by complex characterization.

AN UNEXAMINED LIFE

In Long’s debut novel, a terminally ill man tries to reconcile with his past.

New Yorker Neal Landrum has a routine checkup that reveals a serious medical condition, and he’s told that he only has a few months left to live. Stunned, he decides to dedicate his remaining days to tracking down an old college girlfriend, Joan Elroy. After finding someone with her name in New Mexico, Neal lies to his wife, buys a car, and hits the road. As he makes his way southwest, his thoughts turn to his past, starting with the claustrophobic environment in which he grew up. He was raised by devoutly religious parents who kept him and his brother, Joe, isolated from the rest of their town, and he only managed to escape after meeting Joan, the daughter of a new high school teacher. He became close with her and her father, eventually dating her and attending the same college as she did. But when her father had a stroke, Joan left school to care for him. Neal cruelly turned his back on her and ended up marrying a rich, popular young woman named Susan Murphy and entering her family’s business. When present-day Neal eventually arrives in New Mexico, he’s disappointed that the woman he finds isn’t his old lover, but a young artist. He quickly realizes, however, that there’s more to her than meets the eye. There are some plot points that are sure to raise readers’ eyebrows; in particular, a “deal” struck between two key characters is so unbelievable that it borders on silly. On the whole, however, this novel takes a bold look at the life of a dying man. Neal is far from perfect, and the novel is unflinching in its commitment to showing him as a three-dimensional human being, with all of his flaws on full display. Even though he’s dying, the plot never handles him with kid gloves, and his past is revealed to be far more complicated than his memories suggest. The story also offers a cast of supporting characters with unexpected depth.

A melancholy reflection on one man’s life, highlighted by complex characterization.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991810-2-7

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Yellow City Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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