Unsettling, endearing, and brilliant.

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A dysfunctional Louisiana family spins out of control in this novel by Dasgupta (The Sea Singer, 2016, etc.).

Barn is a 7-year-old boy who wishes that he had the power of flight. At the beginning of the story, he climbs up on the roof of the family home in rural Louisiana, having glued feathers to his skin. It’s easy to understand why he wants to fly away; his father, referred to as Uncle Gerald, is a ne’er-do-well who’s wanted for all manner of criminal offences. Barn’s cousin Mutty, the novel’s first-person narrator, soon convinces Barn that he actually can’t fly. Mutty lives with his mother and Barn in a boarded-up farmhouse. He also has a fascination with Pepper, a mysterious, vociferous young woman who shows up at the farm on a regular basis. Pepper and Mutty aren’t friends, but they often have uninhibited, rough sex. After Uncle Gerald is arrested, Barn starts refusing to talk, and soon the family’s world descends into turmoil. Another character, referred to as The Dirty Man, shows up in town—a chilling figure from Pepper’s sordid past. Mutty’s estranged father, Pierre, reveals that The Dirty Man, otherwise known as Brody, bought Pepper from another man named Mallow, and he now owns “her skin and everything in between.” The Dirty Man is intent on taking her away, but she’s a fighter (and a biter). She’s also growing emotionally closer to Mutty, who will do anything to protect those close to him. This is a deeply idiosyncratic novel with a wildly unique descriptive style. The opening reads like a book for early readers: “Cow, cow, cow, went the moo, and cat, cat, cat went the meow, and dog, dog, dog, went the bark.” This approach continues throughout, although it becomes rather more adult in tone after Mutty and Pepper’s visit to a sex toy shop: “Leather, leather, leather went the thong. Zzzz, zzzz, zzzz went the vibrate.” Mutty is a desperately unreliable narrator who offers a deliciously distorted reading of events. At one point he remarks, “The man walked up to us. Pepper’s nails were deep into my skin.” This is repeated as “Pepper walked up to us. The man’s nails were deep into my skin.” And then, “My skin walked up to us, and Pepper’s nails were deep into the man’s skin.” It’s akin to experimental poetry, and readers are regularly left piecing together fragments while searching for meaning. It takes some work on the reader’s part, but it’s well worth the effort. Dasgupta is an ingenious writer with a painterly eye for detail, as when Mutty confides: “all I could do was sit and watch Barn play under the pepper sprinkled sun.” He also has an equal power to disturb—as when Mutty buys strawberry-flavored edible underwear at a store as a snack for Barn to eat. This is courageously strange writing that will intrigue and beguile the reader from the get-go, and it boasts a denouement that would make Quentin Tarantino squirm.

Unsettling, endearing, and brilliant.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-211-6

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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