Worthy tales that prove external forces are no more terrifying than what’s inside people’s heads.

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NIGHTMARE'S EVE

Characters battle loneliness and unsettling occurrences in this assortment of otherworldly poems and stories.

In the opening tale, “A Deal in the Dark,” Jenny’s childhood fear of the dark has returned. But while an apparent presence may render her trepidation tangible, her real fear is more psychological: being alone. Provost’s (Memortality, 2017, etc.) vivid characters throughout are similarly tortured. Jenny only has her brother, Andy, because their parents are dead, and Alex in “Mama” is shaken by a pendulum’s prediction of his mother’s death. In the same vein, individuals secluded by bouts of insomnia and nightmares are desperate for help: Robert Delvecchio seeks a palm reader in “Breaking the Cycle,” and Alana responds to a neurologist’s Facebook ad in “Teeth.” There are occasional glimpses of creatures, and Provost sticks mostly with the classics: vampires, ghosts, aliens, and even dragons. But trekking familiar terrain allows the author to deftly subvert readers’ expectations. “Lamp Unto My Fate,” for example, features a genie, complete with the tried-and-true moral of being careful what you wish for. But protagonist Maximus, a litigator, and the newly freed genie treat the wish-giving as a business deal, prompting some fun “verbal sparring.” Other instances of humor crop up but never fully dominate the book’s grim tone. Such is the case for the titular character in “Nightmare’s Eve (Rotten Robbie’s Christmas Comeuppance)”; his mischievous ways are a clue that his encounter with Santa likely won’t turn out well. Provost’s poetry varies in rhyming schemes but skillfully displays the same somber themes as the stories. Isolation, for one, is depicted in illustrative lines, as in “Lost at Sea”: “The mast falls like a hammer / The deck, it cracks and splinters / The North Wind howls and taunts me / With the breath of countless winters.” Fortunately, not all of the tales are filled entirely with dread. Some, like the closing story, “George & the Dragon: The Untold Story,” have uplifting moments amid all that death and solitude.

Worthy tales that prove external forces are no more terrifying than what’s inside people’s heads.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-948594-04-2

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Black Raven Books

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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