The plucky heroine and made-for-TV tragicomic scenes and dialogue make this a promising debut.

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The Surgeon's Obol

A young woman breaks into a male-dominated field and re-evaluates her faith during a grueling hospital internship.

Medical student Isabella “Izzie” Isaksen follows her father into surgery through an internship at Ohio Memorial General Hospital. A year of constant fatigue and gruesome operations lies ahead. A routine gastric bypass goes awry, a transplanted heart refuses to beat, and an 80-year-old man appears with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Meanwhile, this debut novel gives an account of Izzie’s loss of faith—“I grew weary of God’s plan and its mysterious unfairness”—as she sees good people diagnosed with horrific illnesses, such as Father Guinell’s pancreatic cancer.  Surgeons also engage in sensitive discussions about quality of life versus last-ditch treatment. (At one point, a doctor observes: “It would absolutely be tragic to remove a tumor and leave a crippled, bed-ridden, tube dependent person in your wake.”) At the same time, Stuart piles on the laughs at this hospital resembling Sacred Heart from TV’s Scrubs. Interns yell out answers as if they were on a game show, there are Seinfeld and I Love Lucy references, and colleagues’ banter is laced with nicknames and expletives. One raunchy scene finds fellow intern “The Donald” Trenbauer incapacitated and priapic in a supply cupboard; Izzie has to treat him in secret. Stuart narrates the medical procedures in impressive but not overwhelming anatomical detail.  Metaphors are pleasantly inventive, like “the Beaujolais flowed in buckets from the abdominal cask” and “Laparoscopic surgery is a lot like making a ship in a bottle.” But an endotracheal tube diagram and a minilesson about O negative blood seem less fitting. Stuart doesn’t follow through on a potential romance Izzie strikes up with her neighbor, and the tale delivers a fairly sudden ending. Still, it’s gratifying to see this intrepid woman infiltrate a field “polluted by machismo,” even if the title’s symbolism about making sacrifices—“we all have to pay the boatman”; an obol was the Greek coin traditionally used—to succeed is somewhat belabored. With obvious punctuation errors and typos (“Chekov” and “a clear conscious”) cleaned up and a title and cover more appropriate to the tone, this jaunty novel would pack a wry punch.

The plucky heroine and made-for-TV tragicomic scenes and dialogue make this a promising debut.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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