A poignant assortment of stylistically daring stories.

READ REVIEW

THIS IS THAT

STORIES

A collection of short stories centered on the complications of love and the disorientation of grief.

Chehak (It’s Not About the Dog: Stories, 2015, etc.) isn’t cowed by the notion of tackling the most exigent existential issues in this assemblage of 16 tales, all but one previously published, mostly in literary magazines such as The Minnesota Review. Many of them confront the pain of loss. For example, in the first, titular piece, Nessa Lowe, a 60-year-old woman, struggles to get her bearings after her longtime husband abandons her for a younger woman—a fate that’s no less humiliating for being clichéd. Nessa contributes to her own solitude by alienating her other family members, as she’s an ungovernable alcoholic, inclined to mercurial acts of violence. Similarly, in “Helium,” Maudie’s spiritual desolation after the death of her husband reduces her to finding companionship in an artificial boy fashioned from balloons. As is characteristic of Chehak’s writing, the story manages to seamlessly weave despair with morbidly outlandish humor, as characters use the latter as a means to negotiate the former. In “Idiot,” a story that’s less than a page in length, an unnamed protagonist returns to her ex-boyfriend’s place to retrieve a pair of shoes only to hurl them into a lagoon shortly after—an act of self-redemption following a self-betraying submission. The author seems keen on flouting conventions; the story structures aren’t always linear, and many of them feel more like quick, impressionistic portraits of emotional states than they do literary chronicles of events. The concluding piece, “That is This: Resurrection,” resembles narrative verse with its series of short questions and declarative statements: “Is she dead? She is dead.” Chehak’s prose offers an impressive variety of styles, ranging from long, cascading sentences to linguistic parsimony, from short snapshots to longer, more plot-driven narratives. She has a talent for packing a lifetime of retrospection into one or two sentences, such as these, from “Coxswain”: “We ran through the streets, chanting for justice and an end to the war and peace on earth and love and he held my hand and I threw the rock that smashed the sign. There was darkness then and he kissed me then, he shattered me like glass.” Most of the pieces in this book are driven by character, and even the unnamed figures in them are powerfully drawn, if enigmatic. In “Suffer the Children: Four Quartets,” for instance, readers don’t know much information about Ellen—a woman in search of a new home, away from her mother—or about Mrs. Norton, the grifter posing as a house seller, but the mad desperation of both women is palpable. The author also sensitively juxtaposes personal anxiety with its global iteration; in “Apocalypse, Tonight,” the unnamed protagonist—her anonymity conspicuous in a story brimming with named characters—makes elaborate preparations for a New Year’s Eve party that could possibly include a Y2K catastrophe, but lurking in the background is the impending death of her father.

A poignant assortment of stylistically daring stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 95

Publisher: Foreverland Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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