Unusual and flawed yet packed with the kind of imaginative brio that fans of political satire will find irresistibly zany.

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Gaza, Wyoming

America under new (and questionable) leadership provides a creative backdrop for this energetic, offbeat political satire, journalist Walls’ (Incesticidal Nurturing: The Life-Affirming Brilliance of Nirvana’s Weirdest Album, 2013) fiction debut.

It’s 2015, and the United States has been under the republican leadership of Mitt Romney ever since he edged out Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. In an effort to shine bright for his re-election bid, President Romney has been busy instituting a Middle East peace plan as an addendum to the general cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in 2014. Romney’s deal included the creation of Palestinian refugee internment camps located in Gaza, Wyoming, such as Camp Echo in “New Gaza,” staffed largely by imprisoned volunteers (“citizen debtors”) who will have their student loans expunged in exchange for work. Persia VanSlyke is headed to Camp Echo to interview a young English instructor, a task that falls somewhat outside hir typical duties as lead investigator for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Persia—who identifies as a frustrated, ambiguous “genderqueer” and is described in gender-neutral pronouns—is then dispatched by hir boss, Beverly, to dig into a politically risky family scandal involving a prominent venture capitalist who happens to be a Democratic senatorial candidate. In an effort to curb the country’s Republican influence, Beverly, a widower and loyal Democratic Party politico, has been finding such candidates to score senatorial seats, though this blossoming family scandal might put his mission at risk. Walls then effectively amps up the histrionics by adding more outlandish personalities to the mix. Philomela “Melly” Shroud—a fallen journalist jailed for prematurely publicizing Romney’s prison camp project—bombs the prison and absconds with the possibly illegitimate Palestinian son of senatorial candidate Dennett Meyerbeer, with bubbly cable news anchorwoman Crissy hotly pursuing the story. The melodrama may be too-tidily cinched with a garage shootout in the book’s final pages, but on a grander scale, Walls’ wildly serpentine satire ultimately emerges as more than a cleverly penned political lampooning. Along the way, he pauses to reflect on gender nonconformity as well as the greater issues of party politics, privilege, and international relations.

Unusual and flawed yet packed with the kind of imaginative brio that fans of political satire will find irresistibly zany.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-48474-6

Page Count: 242

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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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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