DUGGAN'S DESTINY

Irish journalist Martin’s first fiction is the tale of the life—and 1847 death—of Daniel O—Connell, “Liberator” of Ireland and lifelong worker for repeal of the union with England. O—Connell’s manservant Duggan kept a journal of the last months of his master’s life, this being the approximate time span also of Martin’s novel. When the story opens, O—Connell has already been struck with the terrible disease called by his Dublin doctors a ’softening of the brain,” making him at first only forgetful but later plunging him into manic periods of almost primal irrationality, fear, nostalgia, infantilism, and incontinence. In flashbacks, Duggan remembers the great days of O—Connell’s rise and phenomenal success as a hero, his rallies at Irish historical sites that would draw upwards of a million people, his imprisonment by the English crown, his emergence and triumphal parade through Dublin. O—Connell’s fame was equally great throughout Europe, and when he embarks on his last journey there—heading for an audience with the Pope—all Paris turns out in tumultuous welcome, none knowing that inside his coach O—Connell is raving like a baby amid the stench of his own waste, and that Duggan, as ever, will faithfully clean and care for him until he’s presentable again. After Paris, however, O—Connell’s recovery is swift, showing promise of a full recovery—until his “doctors” insist on more devastating enemas against the “congestion.” O—Connell’s death in Genoa and the treatment of his body afterward are portrayed in scenes that are extraordinary, vivid, and not for the squeamish. His heart sent on to Rome, his body back to Dublin, an era ends. Duggan, left without employment in an Ireland crazed with starvation, death, and typus, becomes an employee in the poorhouse, tending not the greatest hero of Europe but the dead bodies of the diseased, starved, and poor. Vivid, fine historical fiction, reverent and wrenching, all through the eyes of one who was there.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-85371-867-X

Page Count: 252

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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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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