Still, though not as smoothly told as it might have been in the hands of a Vargas Llosa or García Márquez, a good yarn—and...

DIVINE PUNISHMENT

A one-time vice president of Nicaragua explores dark corners of his nation’s history in this blend of historical novel and noir procedural.

“It was to be a historical novel,” writes Ramírez of the making of his book, which was written and published in Spanish more than 30 years ago, “but also a realist novel, a mannerist novel, a police thriller, a courtroom drama.” Elements of all these run through his narrative, though perhaps with a touch too much emphasis on the courtroom drama part of the mix, which goes on too long without a suitably Perry Mason–esque moment of reckoning (“Please tell the court: Did you take bicarbonate of soda to the room with a glass of water and a spoon to dissolve the medicine”). The premise is transparent enough: in 1933, a young man, an “attractive male specimen,” is both wooing and apparently doing away with some of the most eligible bachelorettes in León, but it’s not really for his allegedly lethal rakishness that he’s in trouble. Hauled to the bench, he affords Ramírez—the winner of last year’s prestigious Carlos Fuentes Prize—an opportunity to satirize Nicaragua’s bourgeois society of the 1930s, which ended in the rise of the Somoza dictatorship. With a few liberties taken, and with a large and diverse cast of characters, Ramírez works with historical fact: there really was a “Casanova killer” of the day, and of course there really was a dictatorship that put an end to the niceties of law—and a dictator who had personal reasons for disliking the defendant, whose story did not end well. Ramírez’s tale, long and diffuse, may be of more historical than literary interest to many readers in exploring a society that was ripe for strongman rule, planting the seeds of the Sandinista revolution half a century later.

Still, though not as smoothly told as it might have been in the hands of a Vargas Llosa or García Márquez, a good yarn—and considering the lack of Central American literature available in English, it enriches a slender library.

Pub Date: May 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62054-014-5

Page Count: 502

Publisher: McPherson & Company

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 32

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • 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?

more