The various perspectives—with some characters knowing more than the reader does, while the reader knows more than...

READ REVIEW

INNOCENT

’Tis the season for sequels—unexpected, decades removed from their well-remembered predecessors. June sees the return of Brett Easton Ellis with Imperial Bedrooms, another Elvis Costello–titled novel that revisits the lost boys of Less Than Zero, the lost men they have become a quarter-century later and the new Hollywood generation of lost girls after whom they lust. It also finds Oscar Hijuelos returning with Beautiful Maria of My Soul, the title of the lovesick ballad immortalized 20 years ago in his breakthrough novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Here, Hijuelos retells the story of that ill-fated romance from the perspective of its inspiration.

But first comes the May publication of Innocent, by Scott Turow, a sequel after 20 years to Presumed Innocent, the novel that not only launched the Chicago-based lawyer’s literary career but inspired a spate of popular courtroom procedurals. Though at least one other lawyer turned author has subsequently achieved greater commercial success, Turow remains the master of the form, at least partly because he’s more fascinated by the mysteries of the human heart than he is by the intricacies of the law. Here, suspense and discovery sustain the narrative momentum until the final pages, but character trumps plot in Innocent. The ironic title underscores the huge gap between innocence as a moral state of grace and “not guilty” as a courtroom verdict. Once again, Turow’s novel pits Rusty Sabich against Tommy Molto, former colleagues turned adversaries, with the former now chief judge of the appellate court and the latter as prosecuting attorney. Sabich remains more complicated and morally compromised, while Molto is much more certain of right and wrong. Exonerated in a murder trial 20 years ago, but his innocence never completely established, Sabich finds himself once again under suspicion after the sudden death of his mentally unstable, heavily medicated wife. As in the first novel, Sabich suffers the guilt of infidelity, but does this make him guilty of the murder Molto becomes convinced the judge has committed? Complicating the issue are the judge’s only son, more of a legal scholar than his father though with some of his mother’s emotional instability, and the whirlwind romance between the junior Sabich and the former clerk for the senior Sabich. To reveal more would undermine the reader’s own pleasure of discovery, but the judge, whether guilty or not, might prefer prison to the revelation of crucial secrets. “How do we ever know what’s in someone else’s heart or mind?” the novel asks. “If we are always a mystery to ourselves, then what is the chance of fully understanding anybody else?”

The various perspectives—with some characters knowing more than the reader does, while the reader knows more than others—contribute to an exquisite tension that drives the narrative. Where the title of the first novel may have presumed innocence, the sequel knows that we’re all guilty of something.

Pub Date: May 4, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56242-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more