Difficult subjects portrayed for readers who want to be challenged as well as entertained.

Good Americans

THE HUMAN TRAGEDY, VOLUME 1

This “found” short story collection takes an unabashed look at life in America through a variety of unfortunate eyes.

Through his New Wei publishing company, Desai (The Brotherhood, 2012) presents this collection of six stories—one of which is a told in three-parts—as the first volume of the Human Tragedy series. In these tales, the collection covers a wide range of voices and topics: “Old Guido” tells of a prejudiced Italian immigrant and his accidental relationship with an underage Hispanic girl; the vignette “Bridget’s Brother” confronts loneliness and family ties; “The Apprentice” describes the Dominican-descended Javier, his Asian masseuse and his struggle up the academic ladder toward a tenured professorship; and “The Mountain” involves a philosophical conversation between two friends on a surprisingly dangerous hike. “Malta: a Love Story,” a 138-page odyssey in three parts, follows the eponymous character from one unfortunate turn of events to another, and the final story, “Dhan’s Debut,” follows an ambitious reporter in New York City as she ferrets out the truth behind a charismatic lawyer. While “Dhan’s Debut” is something of a letdown with its out-of-left-field ending, the other stories speak volumes about the human condition and modern life in America. Best of all, despite their difficult subjects, each one achieves that level of consideration without any sense of judgment or moralizing to cloud the experience; it’s left to readers to make up their own minds about what they just witnessed. Though most of the stories have happy endings, they’re not happily-ever-afters. These endings are real: People die, peace is found or made, and lives are changed—or, sometimes, not. Just like our own lives. And therein lies the power of this first volume, which, while not as grandiose or revolutionary as the fictionalized introduction makes it out to be, is a solid collection of rare caliber.

Difficult subjects portrayed for readers who want to be challenged as well as entertained.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988351936

Page Count: 370

Publisher: The New Wei LLC

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2013

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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