A portrait of life: poignant, true, and deeply felt.

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Leave a Crooked Path

Hanson fills a quiet Maine town with colorful characters in this debut literary novel.

Claire has grown up with a sense of both gravity and beauty in her life. On the one hand, she has her mother, who was born in Dresden, Germany, barely survived World War II, and considers every day a caution more than a gift. On the other, her father, a welder and a talented cook who fills their home with haute cuisine beyond the reach of the average nuclear family, is often stubborn and serious in his pride. So Claire stands reserved—dark, even. She sees doom everywhere, only processing it through storytelling. And while her little sister, Grace, has a similar eye for impending disaster, she possesses a more romantic or tragic view of things. But what the story conveys, far more than Claire—at least to her own mind—is that even in the face of tragedy, life continues. It adapts. The members of the community spring into action to address injury, accident, or death but then simply accept and incorporate it into the fabric of their daily lives. And at the same time, the reader sees how this sort of response isn’t good enough to address the longer-standing, more poisonous problems in Claire’s town and family, most particularly her father’s alcoholism. And it’s only now, as Claire’s last summer before high school draws to a close and she finds herself on the cusp of childhood’s end, that real tragedies and intractable problems—and her inability to stop or fix them—begin to weigh on her. Literary fiction often features narrators who are more observers or secondary actors than protagonists, but Claire is that rare character who is both disconnected from and intimately a part of her world. In this way, the novel manages to capture the feelings of helplessness or lack of agency that are so endemic to both childhood and the contemporary American zeitgeist. Unfortunately, the book is very short and might benefit from more time to explore the other characters and the community—details that push the reader to truly inhabit the tale. Nevertheless, it’s a rare, excellent character study and a fantastic read besides.

A portrait of life: poignant, true, and deeply felt.

Pub Date: July 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-74557-1

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Shadowlight Press

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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