With Maeve Binchy’s talent for interconnected stories, and her tendency toward the sentimental, Holthe is not afraid to...

THE FIVE-FORTY-FIVE TO CANNES

Holthe shifts from the World War II–era Filipino setting of her richly original debut novel (When the Elephants Dance, 2001) to the contemporary Riviera in this novel of linked stories about characters whose lives jostle and sometimes collide along the French-Italian train line to Cannes.

In the opening story, the collision is literal. Chazz, a troubled, wealthy American, is fatally struck by a car outside the train station. He has been physically running away from two train hustlers, but on a deeper level he has been running from his fear that his wife Claudette is about to end their marriage. Chazz’s death is witnessed by an elderly French Jewess whose son’s heart was broken ten years earlier when his fiancée Claudette ran off with Chazz. Meanwhile, the two train hustlers’ younger brother, GianCarlo, yearns for a normal adolescence and attempts to escape the criminal life. Hoping he has already escaped that life is the local ferry pilot, an ex-con who has been raising a little boy named Claudio as his grandchild ever since Claudio appeared, the scars of previous abuse evident, on his doorstep. Hopelessly hopeful, Claudio and GianCarlo, who have their own interactions, face dark fates that readers will find themselves caring about long after the book’s more sophisticated broken hearts fade. One such broken heart is Sophie, a young photographer who once photographed Chazz. On the coast shooting pictures of a famous Italian chef, Sophie finds herself the fourth corner of a romantic triangle when she becomes involved with the chef’s brother, who is in love with the chef’s wife. In the final story, Chazz’s widow Claudette shows up to tie together the love triangles, mixed messages between lovers and lost opportunities.

With Maeve Binchy’s talent for interconnected stories, and her tendency toward the sentimental, Holthe is not afraid to enter darker the waters in which her characters sometimes swim but often drown. A talent to watch.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-307-35185-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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