A generally engaging addition to the expanding library of historical fiction.

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Home Fires

Debut Canadian novelist Cameron, inspired by stories from her grandparents and uncles, pays homage to the early settlers of Ontario’s northern territory.

This novel celebrates the strength of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary circumstances. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government, anxious to develop the northern reaches of its Ontario province, began selling cheap acreage to those willing to homestead, clear the vast forests of a rather unforgiving, lonely terrain, and work in the mineral-rich mines in the north. In England, Annie Larsen Kidd’s husband, Jim, sees this as the opportunity they’ve been seeking—a way for the financially struggling young family to finally secure their own home and provide a future for their children: “Listen to this!” he says. “Ye can buy land fo’ fifty cents an acre and just pay a quarter of the price in cash.” Reluctantly, Annie packs up her three children and follows him to New Ontario, where she discovers that he’s built them a rustic, two-room log cabin; their nearest neighbor is a couple of miles away. Thus begins a prototypical immigrant tale of poverty, frustration, and perseverance. Cameron’s focus is on the details of Annie’s daily life: the milestones (including two more births) and the more mundane, repetitive chores. Although the story is light on action, and Annie is the only three-dimensional character, Cameron’s simple, third-person narrative works well to bring readers into the long-lost moments of a past century. There are some compelling sections, when the major events of the era wreak havoc on the small, isolated village; Cameron depicts a devastating forest fire, World War I, and a lethal outbreak of Spanish Flu through graphic imagery, as in this description of Jim’s arrival at the front line in France: “The fields around them were littered with corpses and decomposing body parts; the dead left to decompose where they fell.” In the “Author’s Notes,” Cameron says, “I wanted to put flesh on the bones of those early pioneers and let them live again.” In this, she succeeds.

A generally engaging addition to the expanding library of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-77180-154-6

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Iguana Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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