Amid the changing allegiances and alliances, sex eventually has consequences, though the reader wearied by two years of this...

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THE TERRANAUTS

Soap opera, satire, and religious allegory find an uneasy balance within this earthbound version of a space colony.

There’s a lot of back story in the latest from the prolific, eclectic Boyle (The Harder They Come, 2015, etc.). As a scientific experiment in the “ecology of closed systems,” with lessons learned for when “we’d have to seed life elsewhere—on Mars, to begin with,” four men and four women are chosen by Mission Control (from 16 finalists) to live in a sealed compound in the Arizona desert for two years. They are designated “Mission Two” after an unfortunate accident aborted “Mission One.” Ultimately, the grand design calls for 50 such two-year missions, a full century of data collection. Three different first-person narrators provide alternating perspectives in separate chapters that advance the plot. Dawn and Ramsay have both been chosen, like the rest, because of media attractiveness to bring public support to an enterprise that relies on it, while Linda, a Korean-American also-ran who remains behind as a monitor on those under glass, feels like her looks and ethnicity have unfairly deprived her. Ramsay maintains that “there are winners and losers in life” and that Linda “was one of the losers.” Dawn and Linda have bonded throughout the training and selection process, but Linda now finds herself transitioning “from best friend to frenemy.” Though the plot also involves a God and a Judas in Mission Control, and eventually an Eve as well, the focus throughout these 500-plus pages rarely shifts from its central obsession: who among “what our species has come to consider prime breeding stock” will pair with whom? Those on the inside gossip and speculate, as does Mission Control, as does the public at large. “Since we were all unmarried, there was endless speculation in the press about which of us might pair up, one rag even going so far as to post odds,” writes Dawn.

Amid the changing allegiances and alliances, sex eventually has consequences, though the reader wearied by two years of this might not much care.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234940-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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