SKELETON CREW

Twenty-some items, mostly collected from magazines, by America's most prolific living horror-master, including a doggerel called "Paranoid: A Chant" that sounds like an amazingly accurate parody of Absolutely Bob Dylan. King's fans—who must revel in his huffery-puffery space-filling—will find their favorite as peppery as ever. In each of these pieces, no matter how ineffective, King strikes upon some truly unsettling image that only he would have the persistence to uncover. In the most ambitious, a short novel called "The Mist," a Maine heatwave announces the coming of a living, bloodsucking, tentacle—filled white mist that eats up woods, radio stations, drugstores, and just plain brand-name folks who are trapped in a supermarket and fighting back with Raid insecticide and burning brooms dipped in lighter fluid. The horrormist is never explained, but one cannot avoid feeling that it is a self-punishing psychic projection of King's consumer society, which is mocked up from paste characters without a single breath of life in them. King sculpts these dummies with as much art as he has, but it is an art which has failed to deepen since Salem's Lot, his most carefully styled novel. King's shorter stories are more artful, but even so, judging them against each other is as hard as telling a Wheaties box from a Fruit Loops box by chewing on each. "Survivor Type" is a parody of survivor stories in which a drug-pushing surgeon is stranded on an island and—high on smack and low on food—forces himself to begin eating himself, starting with a cracked leg. In "The Word Processor of the Gods," the genie in a Wang begins fulfilling a writer's dreams by deleting him of his fat wife and clinker son and inserting him the wife and son he longs for—a lively conceit that King works to a warm, sentimental climax which avoids the strong, hard punch the reader asks for. His oldest story, "The Reaper's Image," written at age 18, tells of an ancient mirror which disappears people. The newest story, "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" (1983), is about a one-shot successful novelist who feeds his typewriter peanut butter and jelly because some elves called Fornits live on the keys and sprinkle gold dust (fornus) on his copy. Then his alcoholic editor starts to go mad as well in a folie a deux. So, bizarre little spellbinders, but more pulpy and concocted than truly driven in their bizarreness.

Pub Date: June 21, 1985

ISBN: 0451168615

Page Count: 530

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985

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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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