The final, luminous chapter is six pages that will take your breath away.

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INLAND

A frontier tale dazzles with camels and wolves and two characters who never quite meet.

Eight years after Obreht’s sensational debut, The Tiger’s Wife (2011), she returns with a novel saturated in enough realism and magic to make the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez grin. She keeps her penchant for animals and the dead but switches up centuries and continents. Having won an Orange Prize for The Tiger’s Wife, a mesmerizing 20th-century Balkan folktale, Obreht cuts her new story from a mythmaking swatch of the Arizona Territory in 1893. The book alternates between the narratives of two complex, beset protagonists: Lurie, an orphan and outcast who killed a boy, and Nora, a prickly frontierswoman with her own guilty conscience. Both speak to the dead. Lurie sees ghosts from early childhood and acquires their “wants,” while Nora keeps up a running conversation with her daughter, Evelyn, dead of heatstroke as a baby but aging into a fine young woman in her mother’s mind. Obreht throws readers into the swift river of her imagination—it takes a while to realize that Lurie is addressing all his remarks to a camel. The land is gripped by terrible drought. As Nora’s homestead desiccates, her husband leaves in search of water, and her older sons bolt after an explosive dispute. An indignant local drunk wonders whether “anybody else in this town [had] read an almanac or history in their lives? What were they all doing here, watching the sky, farming rock and dust?” Still, a deep stoicism, flinty humor, and awe at the natural world pervade these characters. They are both treacherous and good company. Here is Nora, hyperaware of a man who’s not her husband: “Foremost on her mind: the flimsiness of her unlaundered shirt and the weight of her boots.” Lurie, hiding among the U.S. Army’s camel cavaliers (you can look them up), is dogged down the years by Arkansas Marshal John Berger. Their encounters mystify both men. Meanwhile, there are head lice, marvelous, dueling newspaper editorials, and a mute granny with her part to play.

The final, luminous chapter is six pages that will take your breath away.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9286-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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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