An astutely realized portrait of the collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of the American dream.

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NIGHTS WHEN NOTHING HAPPENED

In Han’s remarkable debut, a misunderstanding gathers enough velocity to almost shatter the nucleus of a Chinese immigrant family in 2003 Texas.

With its motion sensors and automatic sprinklers, the Dallas suburb of Plano seems like a high-resolution version of the all-American town. Scratch the veneer, though, and you’ll see turmoil beneath the gloss. The newly arrived Chengs are a barely functional family unit. They’re not just strangers in a new land—they’re practically strangers to each other. Eleven-year-old Jack is just coming to know his family after having spent his formative years with his grandparents in Tianjin, China. Looking to pursue a doctorate in physics, Patty, Jack's mother, had emigrated first, and Liang, her photographer husband, followed shortly after. Patty’s dreams of higher education were aborted when research funding ran out and she was forced to take up work for Texas Semiconductor. After a few years, the couple saved enough money to bring Jack over. In the meantime, Annabel was born. Jack’s 6-year-old sister is a firecracker who exerts her will to ruinous effect at Plano Star Care. Lacking his wife’s pluck, Liang too has challenges to overcome: his insecurities about hailing from peasant stock and an anemic photography business. Han expertly shifts the ground under the narrative, constantly shaking the snow globe to nudge the reader's perspective away from the familiar. The restrained prose is all the more effective as it releases a Molotov cocktail during a singular moment when Jack’s desire to establish a place in his family clashes with his father’s shaky societal standing. Han’s characters are authentic, vulnerable, and utterly convincing, delivering one dynamite novel.

An astutely realized portrait of the collateral damage wrought by the pursuit of the American dream.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08605-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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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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The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

ONE BY ONE

Our contemporary Agatha Christie offers up her version of And Then There Were None when 11 people are stranded in a ritzy ski chalet and begin dying one by one.

By the numbers, the streaming app Snoop is devastatingly successful, and the company is on the cusp of a major buyout—if the shareholders vote to take this route. The founders, Topher and Eva, are torn, and the other three shareholders are being courted to choose sides. Most of the pressure falls on Liz, an awkward outlier when compared with the glamorous, beautiful people who head up the company. Though she doesn't work directly for Snoop anymore, Liz is included in the leadership retreat: It's her and eight other board members at a lush, remote French ski chalet for a little powder, a little pampering, and a little back-channel business. Erin and Danny, the caretakers of the chalet, notice tension among the members of the Snoop group from the beginning, but overall it seems like just another wealthy, entitled corporate gathering. The weather on top of the mountain grows increasingly dangerous, and when nine people go out to ski and only eight return, fear and suspicion begin to grow. Then there's an avalanche, and the chalet is cut off from contact with the outside world. Soon, another group member dies, apparently poisoned, and then another is murdered because of something she saw. The survivors must split up to search for help before there's no one left. Alternating chapters between Liz's and Erin’s points of view, Ware does what she does best: Gives us a familiar locked-door mystery setup and lets the tension and suspicion marinate until they reach fever pitch. Another win for Ware and her adaptations of classic mystery traditions.

The solution is maddeningly simple but the construction, simply masterful.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8881-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scout Press/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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