A unique novella that offers a passionate, if somewhat incoherent, defense of quality journalism.

THE NEWSPAPERMAN

In a new book by Nudo (The Millionaire’s Cross, 2014, etc.), a man investigates a local publication run by staffers who may be more dangerous than they seem.

Seth Kesler, who works in advertising, is “the last of a dying breed” of people who still love reading high-quality print journalism. So he’s intrigued when he meets Cedrick, an eccentric yet friendly old-fashioned newspaper hawker, outside his office building one morning. The C-U Journal, a long-defunct daily serving the Champagne-Urbana region of Illinois, has recently been purchased by Richard W. Fields, a media mogul who’s buying up local papers across the country. Seth, disenchanted by the fact that shallow internet click-bait is replacing quality journalism across the United States, is initially pleased to read a real newspaper. But the publication’s standards decline rapidly, resulting in sensationalized, poorly written, and likely inaccurate stories that seem aimed to titillate rather than tell the truth. Just as disturbingly, Cedrick proves himself to be quite capable of violence when crossed; in broad daylight, he brutally attacks some disrespectful teens who later mysteriously disappear—and Seth worries that they may have met a worse fate. Aided by his wife, his co-worker, and a local journalism professor, Seth investigates Cedrick, Fields, and the shady group of characters who churn out the C-U Journal, which he begins to see as a destructive force in the community. As Seth becomes increasingly passionate about defending his cause, however, he realizes that the C-U Journal staff may be a threat to his life. This quick, readable novella’s enthusiastic advocacy of good journalism feels very relevant in today’s era of “fake news.” Seth’s alarm at his friends’ and family’s reliance on unreliable sources (such as trending Twitter terms) rings true, as does the fact that the C-U Journal becomes widely read for its calculated, salacious content rather than for quality reporting. The C-U Journal staffers are more like horror-movie characters than denizens of realistic fiction—they talk and act bizarrely, enact frequent violence with theatrical élan, and experience either delayed consequences for their actions or none at all; for instance, no one beside Seth seems to notice Cedrick’s aggressive public behavior toward the teens. Seth is so calm and reasonable that it’s hard to determine what kind of reality he shares with the C-U Journal people. Indeed, the text leaves some major questions unanswered: Why are the local police so incompetent at investigating crimes when the culprits seem obvious to a casual observer? Why would Seth, after suspecting murder and witnessing terrible violence by C-U Journal staffers, accept an invitation to enter their building unaccompanied? If Fields is meant to serve as a symbol of the evils of modern journalism, why does he refuse to publish online, where some of the worst journalism trends of the past few years have festered? Although this work is certainly an entertaining read, these plot uncertainties make its message a murky one.

A unique novella that offers a passionate, if somewhat incoherent, defense of quality journalism.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-981783-28-1

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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