Entertaining, thought-provoking, and original.

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THE SECOND DEATH

In this novel of the afterlife, an average Joe gets the chance to make things right with three figures from his past—and then things get strange.

As this unusual novel begins, Henry Ford (not the famous one) has just died of stomach cancer. Now that he’s dead, he begins considering his life, because—like his high school nickname, “Edsel”—this Ford failed to deliver. Although he succeeded in not repeating his alcoholic father’s worst sins, such as spousal abuse, he resembled his dad, Charlie, in other ways: by taking over his insurance-sales business, neglecting his own family, and drinking too much. Henry explores the afterlife in Purgatory and has visions that include mystifying numbers, symbols, and his mother telling him to avoid his father’s fate—the “second death” of banishment to hell. About one-third of the way through the novel, the narration abruptly shifts from first to third person as Henry meets Billy, the “Piano Man”; Henry remembers seeing him play in a nightclub in Pensacola, where he used to vacation. Billy explains that Henry can request to see three people from his life, with whom he hopes to make things right. The novel tells a not-unexpected story of redemption involving Henry’s relationships with wife, son, and daughter—but once it reaches that destination, it goes wildly off-road. Charlie gives Billy the second death, explaining that the Devil wants the Piano Man for his band; Henry is invited to celebrate Billy’s lost soul at an extravagant rock opera/wake in which Satan is the headliner; and Charlie reveals a plan to help his son escape hell via a deal with the King of Thieves.  In his debut novel, Devon keeps up a colorful patter with frequent references to songs, movies, and other aspects of popular culture. Although Henry calls himself “ordinary,” he’s extraordinarily well-informed, making references to Buddhism’s Bodhi Tree, for example, or James Joyce’s Ulysses in this passage about his father: “Obscure and obscene, and born on a day in 1904 when the Joyce fella set his Dublin, novel….you see nothing but the dark night of a rotten soul entering the pale moon light to a whiter shade of hate.” At the same time, there’s nothing highbrow about how Henry’s daughter Elizabeth learns to love music—from hearing Elton John’s 1997 performance of “Candle in the Wind” at Princess Diana’s funeral. Some of the novel’s unexpected developments are fascinating, particularly the rock opera; Satan’s introduction, for instance, is rich with impresario cadences: “I bring you the long tongue liar, the midnight rider, the rambler, the gambler, the back biter! The one and only, the first victim that rose to be the King of Babylon, Lucifer the beautiful morning star, your deal maker, the one who knows your name, the Serpent Shaitan!” Although the progress of Henry’s soul becomes a little hard to follow in this heady atmosphere, the story somehow still manages to hang together.

Entertaining, thought-provoking, and original.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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