If Bret Easton Ellis wrote a biothriller.

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IMMUNITY

A nasty post-pandemic New York, with plenty of Patrón tequila and cocaine.

Meet Catherine. The daughter of a bathroom fixture heiress and a drug-company whistleblower, she's been "running up her credit card balance, sweeping into parties at Fashion Week, topless sunbathing on the terrace in Positano." Then comes the outbreak of TX, a virulent flu that has killed 300 million worldwide, now barely contained by the government, with all of Newark turned into a quarantine zone. New York is filled with street vendors selling face masks, "propagators" who cough and spit on purpose, and screening centers for the Department of Health. Unfortunately, Catherine's mother spent all the family money before she died, so Catherine accepts a job from a man named Mercer, whose "deep-set teal eyes were like gaudy buttons sewn in their sockets." She'll be working the phones for Pursuit, a luxury concierge service that procures disease-free vacations, restaurant reservations, and such for ultrarich men. But Catherine's been coughing and worries that she's caught the bug, so she agrees to have an experimental anti-viral device implanted in her lower back before she can start. From this point, the plot moves quickly through increasingly violent scenarios—beginning with a disturbing game that involves sitting in the crow's nest of an abandoned upstate motel, doing drugs, and shooting money and pellets at the local proletariat. "The HideAway isn't just fun with guns. It's about satisfaction, power—staying healthy," a creep named Chad explains. Soon, Catherine's on the run from her sleazy employers, desperate to get that weird thing out of her back, with violence mounting to the last page. Antrim's (The Headmaster Ritual, 2007) eerie descriptions of a decaying Manhattan and obsession with smells—"that brown-sugar odor she liked, plus an old, airless funk, like the inside of an old shoe"; "fresh paint and the tart, synthetic aroma of new carpet"; "dried sweat, coffee, and menthol soap"—balance the increasingly headlong narrative.

If Bret Easton Ellis wrote a biothriller.

Pub Date: May 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-941393-28-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Regan Arts

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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