An arresting novel that grounds its story first before spinning readers off into a rewarding, dreamlike finale.


After & Before

In Alexander’s (The Fall of Summer, 2014) psychological thriller, a woman undergoing hypnotherapy has trouble distinguishing reality from visions of what seems to be another life.

Jane McBride’s trek into past-life regression therapy seems to be going well. She apparently experiences a “previous lifetime” when under hypnosis, seeing herself as a nun. But therapist Twyla refuses further sessions with Jane, who’s been increasingly unresponsive and harder to pull out of her hypnotic state. Unfortunately, real life for Jane involves philandering, alcoholic husband Jimmy and sexually harassing boss John Briggs at cosmetics company DSRR. She prefers the regression, where she feels love for a man she recurrently sees. Jane tries self-hypnosis, and soon the regressions bleed into her dreams and waking state, leaving her baffled as to what her reality truly is. In spite of the plot, the author doesn’t relay the story as a twisted, illusory narrative. It’s easy to discern when Jane is fully conscious, and her repeated jumps into visions of another place or time are also perfectly clear. It’s really not until the book’s final act that things get much more disorienting for the protagonist—and likely readers as well. Jane’s everydayness is rife with appetizing plot developments: Jimmy blames Jane for his adulterous ways, while the repugnant Briggs proves rather testy when Jane turns down his advances. The hypnotic sequences bolster the story with mystery, especially because Jane is sure, for instance, that she recognizes a farmhouse she keeps seeing. Supporting characters are dynamic, and not all are bad: sympathetic psychiatrist Eric Alford is willing to dabble in hypnosis on Jane’s behalf, and her work assistant/friend Carrie is charmingly cynical. Along the way, Alexander drops hints as to what’s truly going on, though he’s so good at that that a few readers may guess the ending. Nevertheless, the novel-long buildup has a strong, dizzyingly fun payoff. While the story concludes by resolving Jane’s dilemma, the coda opens the book to interpretation (or reinterpretation) and may have some readers flipping back to Page 1.

An arresting novel that grounds its story first before spinning readers off into a rewarding, dreamlike finale.

Pub Date: July 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9914237-0-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Greyfield Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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

Did you like this book?