Whimsy and pathos, artfully melded.

TEN THINGS I'VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE

This soulful debut unpacks a family enigma involving a wandering daughter, a homeless father and their tenuous family ties.

The title might promise another light romantic romp about a footloose young woman in her late 20s. However, English newcomer Butler has greater gravitas in mind. The top 10 lists strewn throughout point to increasingly somber subjects: a mother’s early death, infidelity, a father’s death from cancer, and elder sisters who are both fervent and ambivalent in their affection for their much younger sibling, protagonist Alice. Summoned home from Mongolia to the bedside of Malcolm, her dying father, Alice is also forced to revisit London, the site of a traumatic rupture with her Indian lover, Kal, whose family wants to arrange a marriage for him. After Malcolm’s passing, sisters Tilly and Cee hint at what Alice has suspected since her mother’s death when she was 4 years old: She is viewed as an interloper in the only family she has ever known. Meanwhile, in alternating sections, Daniel, a homeless man, scours London for the daughter he fathered during a long-ago affair but has never met. Daniel’s plight stems both from the disastrous legacy of his gambler father and from an auto accident that bankrupted him. All he knows is that the woman he is searching for might have red hair, like her mother, and is named Alice. Delicately, through the accretion of telling details, the reader learns that Daniel’s Alice and our heroine are one and the same, but Alice thinks her father has just died. When, while helping another destitute man reconnect with his lost child, Daniel happens across Malcolm’s obituary, complete with relatives’ names and the location of memorial services, he realizes his quest may soon be fulfilled if he has the courage to gamble. Improbably but convincingly, his initial diffident overtures to Alice take the form of mini art installations. Spare language and an atmosphere of foreboding will keep readers on tenterhooks.

Whimsy and pathos, artfully melded.

Pub Date: July 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59420-533-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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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