This ambitious tale involving a bizarre metamorphosis struggles to find a relatable worldview.

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MOUNTAIN WOMAN MOUNTAIN BEAST

A Colorado woman deals with a surreal identity change in this novel.

Sheila is a 44-year-old single mom who lives near Molybdenum Mountain Ski Resort, where she works in the transportation department. But in the book’s first chapter, Sheila undergoes a dramatic change: An alien light appears while she’s alone in the resort garage and offers her one wish. Before she can decide on an answer, she’s abruptly turned into a male silverback mountain gorilla. Flummoxed and still possessing her human mind and speech capabilities, Sheila reaches out to her co-worker (and occasional fling) Kurt, who eventually overcomes his shock to help her get home. The resort has hired a team of trained gorillas managed by humans who communicate with them through sign language to install a new ski lift before winter. Sheila attempts to blend in with the crew while Kurt, her friend Blaise, her psychoanalyst, Roger, and her son, Peter, are brought into the loop one by one to try to understand what’s happened. Sheila, meanwhile, eventually realizes she’s not the only gorilla in the group who used to be human. The pressing issue of whether she should live in the human world or the animal one becomes more urgent when she and the other gorillas are moved to the zoo and face the possibility of eventual transport to Africa. This tale presents a powerful premise, and it’s at its most effective when Sheila struggles to reconcile her gorilla identity with her human one. But surreal premises work best when characters’ emotional landscapes remain consistent and relatable. Unfortunately, players here tend to react unpredictably and irrationally. Sheila wrestles a frightened Kurt to the ground and kisses him in a playful attempt to flirt—while she’s a gorilla. And no one at the resort seems to stop to count the free-range gorillas while they’re working. Characters often spout a simple “Wow” when discussing mind-shattering events. Metzger’s (Two Boys, 2013) book is interested in gender identity—many characters speculate Sheila transformed because of an unconscious desire to be male. But in light of her also changing species, repeated focus on the gender swap seems beside the point.

This ambitious tale involving a bizarre metamorphosis struggles to find a relatable worldview.

Pub Date: July 27, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Owl of Athene Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2018

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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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