For the omnivorous reader who, like Meg, can't get enough of the insights and passions and theories and inner lives of...

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OUR TRAGIC UNIVERSE

Freewheeling intellectual journey with no destination.

A provocative book called The Science of Living Forever puts reviewer Meg in a reflective frame of mind. As she orders a batch of scientific/philosophical books to pore over, she finds herself questioning her assumptions about the universe and examining her relationship with prickly live-in Christopher. Meg's bread-and-butter gig is the Zeb Ross adventure series; she even holds retreats teaching other ghostwriters how to write for Zeb. But constantly in the back of her mind is the literary novel she spends a lot of energy avoiding and/or making notes for. On holiday in Scotland, woes over this unrealized opus lead to a lively discussion on the nature of the novel; must it have a story and a pattern, or can it depict what happened and offer "Zen" stories, designed to wean the reader from the restrictive expectation of cause and effect? Does it matter? Thomas toys with this idea. The narrative is built around small developments in Meg's life but studded with philosophical and literary discussions and riffs based on the ideas of writers/thinkers of the past (Nietzsche, Chekhov) and present (not household names, but she helpfully includes several titles in the acknowledgments). The more anxious Meg becomes over the novel, the more she becomes absorbed in her knitting and the lives of her friends. Libby has pushed her car into the water to cover up an affair and Meg's ex Drew is co-starring in a new Anna Karenina film. There's also the little matter of Meg kissing another man, the restless and much older Rowan. An unexpected TV deal brings a financial windfall that should change Meg's life significantly but doesn't—at least not right away. And when Christopher suffers an injury, he becomes impossible to live with. Meg leaves him, but not dramatically, simply sneaking away when he's not at home.

For the omnivorous reader who, like Meg, can't get enough of the insights and passions and theories and inner lives of others, Thomas's fifth novel (The End of Mr. Y, 2006, etc.) should be an addictive delight.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-15-101391-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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