Part gothic novel, part adventure story, but primarily a meditation on surmounting misfortunes that may lie beyond an...

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Dead parents haunt Shreve’s 16th novel (You Are the Love of My Life, 2012, etc.).

In 2007, George Washington University professor Georgianna Grove still grapples with the mysterious tragedy that orphaned her as a small child. In 1941, when Georgianna was 4, her father, William, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, went to prison for murdering her mother on a canoe trip to the Wisconsin summer camp he ran. Four years later, William died in prison, leaving Georgianna to face a lonely childhood with unapproachable, anti-Semitic maternal grandparents. In reaction, Georgianna made the concept of "home" central to her research as an anthropologist and has continually welcomed strangers into the house where she raised her own three children. They’d become fatherless themselves at ages 4, 2, and still-in-the-womb when Georgianna’s husband died in Vietnam. On her 70th birthday, Georgianna receives a letter from the only other person from the 1941 canoe trip who's still alive. At the time, Roosevelt McCrary was an 11-year-old child who had been hired, along with his mother, to work at the camp despite being black. As an adult, Roosevelt became a part owner of the camp and has retired there. Hoping he has information to exonerate William, Georgianna decides to revisit the camp and nearby murder site for the first time. She drags along her family—grown children Venus, Rosie, and Nicolas, whose work on Barack Obama’s campaign hovers in the background; Rosie’s 13-year-old son, Thomas, in the throes of grieving his own father’s recent death; Nicolas’ son, 15-year-old Jesse, and 4-year-old daughter, Oona, coincidentally Georgianna’s age in 1941. Georgianna discovers that her parents’ lives and deaths were more complex and mysterious than she thought and not truly knowable. Shreve creates a spooky atmosphere with stormy weather, eerie parallels between past and present, and at least one threateningly crazy woman. Even spookier is the backdrop of 20th-century racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration feeling that are all too familiar today.

Part gothic novel, part adventure story, but primarily a meditation on surmounting misfortunes that may lie beyond an individual’s control.

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-29294-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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