A breezy, if flawed, debut that promises better things to come.

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HOW I'M SPENDING MY AFTERLIFE

A fugitive attorney gets a new lease on life after faking his own death in Fleury’s debut crime novel.

Alton Carver is a bad man who’s just stolen $3 million. He’s the kind of guy who parks his Porsche across two spaces to avoid damage to the paint; now, he’s about to fabricate a fatal boating accident, leaving his wife, Nicole, and 4-year-old daughter, Clara, to pick up the pieces back home in Florida while he spends his days in Costa Rica. The plan is to reveal the truth to his wife a few years down the line. After he pilots his 26-foot Island Runner five miles into the ocean, sets it on fire, and kayaks to safety, he shaves his head, adopts a fake mustache, and returns home to witness his own wake—and then sees a strange man pawing his wife. He won’t leave town until he finds out what’s going on, so he sets about “haunting” his family (by secretly entering the house and making himself coffee, for instance). Meanwhile, the insurance company won’t pay out to Nicole, the police are sniffing around, and little Clara thinks she’s seeing her dead father. When Clara later goes missing, it puts Alton and Nicole on a collision course that will end with someone dead. With first-person narration duties largely split between Alton and Nicole, Fleury’s debut seems pacier than it is, promising an engaging noir story that never fully materializes. Alton’s procrastination, which takes up a fair chunk of the book, reads as a lack of authorial confidence; it also makes the book feel like a novella’s worth of story padded out to novel length. Overall, Fleury’s characters remain frustratingly underdeveloped. Alton’s embezzlement, for example, is merely a contrivance for him to fake his own demise, and his decision to linger is implausible. Nicole, meanwhile, is little more than a barely present mother and cheating wife with a penchant for wine. Luckily, Fleury has a brisk writing style and an ear for characters’ voices. This helps paper over the cracks and ultimately makes the book an enjoyable read.

A breezy, if flawed, debut that promises better things to come.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991653-0-0

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Erik Spencer Fleury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2017

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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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