A trilogy of dense, exciting novellas about American love and greed in different eras.

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My Mad Russian

THREE TALES

Meyers (Wedding on Big Bone Hill, 2014, etc.) offers a collection of three novellas concerning romance and wealth.

The first, titular tale begins in 1933. In it, a wealthy banker named Max Berlin and his private investigator are concerned about the fact that Soviet agents have kidnapped Berlin’s tenant—an eccentric Russian inventor on the cusp of launching a lucrative new technology. This scene leads into Berlin’s account of the changes in art and society in the 1910s, ’20s, and ’30s; his marriage to the independent-minded Dora; and her infatuation with the mad Russian scientist. In Big Luck, set in the first decade of the current century, Mexican immigrant Ricardo is reluctant to seek American citizenship due to his occupation as a live-in catamite for a wealthy Iranian exile. When Ricardo’s lover breaks off the arrangement, he must find a new way to support himself, and he’s lured into a scheme to hide an acquaintance’s lottery winnings as tax-deductible gambling losses. In Sidestep, a college dropout goes to work for a wealthy friend of her father’s in an Ohio college town that the friend’s family has dominated for generations. She quickly falls into her new benefactor’s bed, but rumors about his wealth, and his sexual history, begin to concern her. Meyers is a masterly communicator of place, whether it be Manhattan of the 1930s or Los Angeles of the 2000s. Most impressively, he’s able to lock into the language and attitudes of each time and location. For example, Berlin narrates in the stodgy, judgmental declarations of a man of his class and generation: “The process of waking up to life is painful, and one our civilization feels it best to postpone, and which children themselves are happy to push off as long as they can.” The breadth of geography and history that Meyers covers keeps the collection varied and engrossing, and he has a knack for splashing a story with just enough mystery to keep readers plowing ahead. These novellas make an impression, and the only way to recover from one is to dive into the next.

A trilogy of dense, exciting novellas about American love and greed in different eras.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1634902403

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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