LIVE FLESH

When Rendell goes all out for psychopathology rather than conventional suspense, the results can sometimes truly be riveting—as in the case of A Judgement in Stone. Often, however, as in this new novel about a severely disturbed ex-convict, Rendell's clinical studies can become more pathetic and oppressive than compelling, especially if the story (like this one) lacks a strongly appealing supporting cast. Victor Jenner, 38, has just emerged from prison after over ten years: he was convicted of shooting policeman David Fleetwood during a panicky siege/shoot-out following Victor's flight from the scene of a brutal rape. (He was never tried for any of his several rape-crimes.) So now Victor must try to build a new life for himself—with little money, no job, no friends, no family (except an old, rich, hostile aunt), and no psychiatric treatment. He has good intentions, a little surface charm, a fair amount of willpower (enough to fight off flickers of rape-urge), but limitless powers of self-delusion—especially when it comes to his Oedipal psychohistory (which is laid on thick but not with full persuasiveness). With no real personal connections, then, Victor soon develops an obsession with the most important man in his life: David, the young policeman he shot (by accident, Victor swears), who has been confined to a wheelchair, and sexually impotent, ever since. Victor seeks him out; half-believably, a strange friendship grows between the two men—since Victor's presence helps David come to realer terms with his disability, while Victor passes from self-deception through naked guilt (a new sensation for him) to a sort of repentance. But, as every reader will sense from the start, this tale of rehabilitation and repentance is leading to dreadful things: Victor, still very crazy, becomes determined to possess David's girlfriend Clare (who does sleep with him once). And when she rebuffs him repeatedly, rekindling all his Oedipal manias, Victor goes on a rampage of rape and murder. . .before his grimly ironic downfall. By general standards, even second-string Rendell is fine work, of course: leanly stylish, starkly detailed, often darkly amusing. And a few touches here—like Victor's use of a wheelchair (just like David's) in his flight from justice—are Rendell at her brilliant best. But, even as a case-history, this is only half-successful: Victor has a Hitchcockian phobia involving tortoises, for example, that's sheer contrivance. And, with no one else to care about (David and Clare are just sketches), the reader is stuck with Victor for the duration: claustrophobic, ultimately dispiriting company, despite Rendell's often-effective attempts to humanize a psycho-criminal profile.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 1986

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1986

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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