While overly long and sometimes confusing, this sci-fi tale remains thoughtful and emotional.

MATRYOSCHKA

From the Matryoschka Heritage series , Vol. 1

Alternative pasts and genders arise from a failed quantum energy experiment in this debut novel.

Alexandria Jane Merk is a white Army veteran who, “at twenty-six, had left her soul on the streets of Tikrit, Iraq” when she couldn’t save two young boys. She’s now attending a university in Pullman, Washington, accompanied by friends Quentin Khan, a chubby, Arabic “man-child,” and Katie Jo Parker, a very tall black woman and fellow vet. Alex Jane becomes affected by a physics experiment that causes her to lose “contact with herself,” creating alternative pasts for two separate identities into which she splits. One is college freshman Sarah Beth Merk, who generally feels that life is good, although she has almost-buried memories of a horrifying childhood event. The other is Alexander “Alex” James Monroe, an Army vet with disturbing childhood memories of his own centering on his great-great-grandmother—“Babushka”— and the mental gymnastics she forced him to undergo with a set of matryoschka, Russian nesting dolls, covered with mysterious writing. And Sarah Beth/Alex are similar to these dolls, because she seemingly exists as a “flesh-hued thing” that slips on and off; in fact, she’s “pure energy” and “the most dangerous thing on Earth.” The dual entity, their friends, and government researchers must race to solve mounting puzzles before Sarah Beth loses control. In his sci-fi series opener, Gene posits a complex, what-if scenario with intriguing (if somewhat vague) links to quantum physics. The gender what-if is central and has a remarkable twist, but Sarah Beth/Alex could be expected to explore their state with more curiosity. The nesting-doll image is also captivating although sometimes overly abstract. While the novel is divided into three parts (“SARAH,” “ALEX,” and “SARAH BETH”), plotting gets hard to follow amid the story’s changing identities and past lives; everything seems to happen in a big swirl. Gene’s dialogue is naturalistic, although characterization sometimes falters, as with Katie—too much the cliché of the scary, angry black woman.   

While overly long and sometimes confusing, this sci-fi tale remains thoughtful and emotional.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72392-691-4

Page Count: 566

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 18, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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