A sober and memorable take on the American West: its opportunities for men to wage war against each other and the land and...

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THE REMOVES

The lives of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, his wife, Libbie, and a 15-year-old Kansas farmer’s daughter converge in this historical novel about the American frontier.

Soli (The Last Good Paradise, 2016, etc.) writes of an angsty Gen. “Autie” Custer pushing into the American West in the post–Civil War era, looking to retain his glory in a new kind of battle. Soli’s braided narrative includes the historical figures of Custer and  Libbie and opens with Anne, a fictional 15-year-old who was captured in an Indian raid on her Kansas homestead, where “it was necessary to work the fields with hoe in one hand and rifle in the other.” The frontier is rough, especially for women. Anne’s family is murdered, and she is held for years by the Cheyenne; Soli’s writing is unsentimental about life in captivity, where Anne is starved and raped. The book is written in alternating chapters told from the third-person perspectives of Anne, Libbie, and Autie. Both Anne's and Libbie’s lives are harmed by the ambitions and passions of men on both sides of the American/Indian conflict. Anne suffers at the hands of the Cheyenne, but as she bears children, she comes to identify with the Indian way of life. Early in her marriage, Libbie gets an “inkling that her savior might also be her tormentor,” but she's drawn to him. The Custers' is a marriage fraught with doubt and long periods of absence while Autie leads campaigns on the American frontier, and Libbie is filled with “constant, rational dread.” Autie is unquestioning of his duty but a man of impulses: “During the war he could have just as well fought for the Confederate cause; he had as many friends on both sides. Now he did not know why he fought the Indians, some of whom he also counted as friends, except that he was told to do so.” Anne prays for rescue, but when it comes, it brings more heartache and men who want to use her.

A sober and memorable take on the American West: its opportunities for men to wage war against each other and the land and the devastation the men’s ambition wrought upon women’s lives.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-24931-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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