An engaging and poignant historical novel.

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A THREAD SO FINE

The intense love shared by two sisters is challenged by crises in Welch’s debut novel, set in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Ithaca, New York, during the mid-20th century.

Shannon and Eliza Malone, born less than 11 months apart, were inseparable as children. The younger sibling, 17-year-old Eliza, is taller and more scholastically successful, and she has a social confidence that Shannon wishes she could emulate. Their mother, Nell, has always been more attentive to Eliza; meanwhile, Eliza “wished she could intervene and overwhelm Shannon with the security she craved but never got from the very same mother.” The girls have different dreams for their futures, but their devotion to each other is total. Then, in August 1946, Shannon contracts tuberculosis and is hospitalized for 10 months. Eliza begins seriously dating David Whitaker, a respectable young man, and in September, she enters her freshman year at a local college. One night, near the end of December, while the girls’ parents are at the hospital watching over Shannon, David’s war hero cousin, Patrick Whitaker, attacks Eliza and rapes her. She tells no one what happened, but the assault results in a pregnancy. Ashamed and traumatized, she still refuses to reveal the truth, even to Shannon. After the baby is born in October 1947, Eliza transfers to Cornell University, breaking off all contact with her family members. In skillful, straightforward prose, Welch sets her character-driven narrative against the backdrop of postwar societal changes. Along the way, she implicitly contrasts the more traditional St. Paul society with the nascent progressive movements in Ithaca. The addictive melodrama weaves a tale of secrets, misunderstandings, resentments, and squandered opportunities for reconciliation that keep the sisters apart for almost two decades. Shannon, the more creative of the two siblings, is a more fully drawn character than Eliza, and readers get to know her more intimately through her unmailed letters. A strangely ethereal epilogue offers a mostly satisfying conclusion, even if it leaves a few questions unanswered.

An engaging and poignant historical novel.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73384-850-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Faodail Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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