THE TREE OF RED STARS

A luminously written debut novel, winner of the 1997 Milkweed Prize for Fiction, about love and ideals under siege in 1960s Uruguay. Though the story that Magda, the narrator, tells on her return to Uruguay after seven years abroad in exile is primarily a love story, it is grounded in the revolutionary politics of a particular time. In the '60s, activists, despairing of their country's totalitarianism, joined a revolutionary movement—the Tupamaros—to work covertly for the establishment of a democratic and socialist state. And though the leftist politics described here seem more often to issue more from the heart than the head, the discussions add a realistic dimension to a genre in which effusions of passion are more often the norm. Magda has returned to Uruguay because she has learned that her lover Marco is to be released from prison. She moves in with her old friend Emilia and begins to explain why she's been so long away. Magda recalls how, as the youngest in a distinguished family, she was brought up to be a young lady of traditional habits and interests; she describes lyrically the childhood pleasures of the well-to-do. But Magda also relates how she befriended the beggar Gabriela; listened as Emilia's mother talked of revolution; heard ChÇ Guevara speak, and was assaulted by the police in the subsequent riot; and admiringly watched Marco, a handsome young neighbor and soldier, attempt to help the poor. Soon a member of the Tupamaros, she spied on the US and British, was imprisoned, then eventually released only with Marco's help. But Marco, who had used his military rank as a cover for revolutionary activities, was finally arrested, and Magda fled the country. The two lovers are now reunited, but their happiness will be brief. Love and the past beautifully evoked in a faraway place, only occasionally marred by some intrusive agitprop commentary. The Uruguayan-born Bridal, now living in the US, is a writer to watch. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 27, 1997

ISBN: 1-57131-013-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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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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