A thoughtfully rendered story about the twin attractions of art and love.

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THE EERIE PRODIGY

A young musical prodigy wrestles with the burden of his rare talent in Openshaw’s (A Single Flash of Light, 2011) novel.

Teenager Kevin Phillips began playing the piano around age 5, taught by his mother, and immediately displayed incredible ability. He lives on the east side of Erie, Pennsylvania, in a working-class neighborhood, and he’s seethingly resentful of his wealthier neighbors, particularly those who attend the prestigious Walcott Academy. However, his parents insist that he audition for admission there, and he’s accepted. There, he has trouble adjusting and making friends, despite his admiration for his piano teacher, Mr. Hildebrand. He’s infatuated with a beautiful senior, Greta Lindsay, but also disdainful of what he perceives as her life of facile privilege. After Kevin’s father loses his job, plunging the family into financial distress, Kevin becomes more uncomfortable with the distance between the wealth of his Walcott peers and his own modest circumstances. However, Kevin’s talent leads him to win several major piano competitions, preparing him for a serious music career. Also, he learns that there’s much more to Greta than his class-oriented caricature of her. He attends Boston University, mostly to be closer to Greta, who attends Brandeis, and he builds the beginnings of a brilliant future. But he’s ambivalent about the competitive and professional aspects of his artistic pursuits. Later on, after his wife, Madeline, suddenly dies in a tragic car accident, Kevin abandons his career, moves to Utah, and finds work with the Forest Service. He’s forced to reconsider his life choices yet again when, after 15 years apart, he’s reunited with Greta, now a divorced mother of two. Openshaw artfully and patiently builds the relationship between Kevin and Greta, and their bond functions as a microcosm of Kevin’s development as a person. The novel’s protagonist is shown to be proud of his talent but also resistant to letting it fully define him; early on, that principled yearning expresses itself as a kind of arrogant haughtiness, and later, it’s chastened into maturity. The author’s prose is simple and free of literary embellishment, and the dialogue rings true, capturing the sometimes-clumsy character of real human speech. Openshaw does have a tendency, however, to unleash dramatic, jarring plot twists that feel contrived. For example, at one point, Kevin’s father spontaneously decamps for California and finds a new job that suddenly brings the family impressive wealth—a windfall that’s all the more peculiar due to the fact that it’s largely unexplained. Similarly, Kevin’s romance with Madeline, his eventual wife, is developed so quickly that it seems more like a parenthetical than a full-fledged subplot, designed simply to expedite Kevin’s rejection of a musical career. Nevertheless, Kevin does emerge as an engaging figure—a real genius who genuinely pines for a sense of normality. And Greta, while a supporting player, is every bit as deep, with a complex life shaped by a trauma in her youth that forever haunts her.

A thoughtfully rendered story about the twin attractions of art and love.

Pub Date: April 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4791-3903-3

Page Count: 303

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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