A concise, cautionary tale about a woman exchanging pain for trust.

The Curious Solitude of Anise

In Swanson’s debut novel, food provides more than physical sustenance for an introverted baker.

When readers first meet Anise Kaufmann, squatting in an abandoned restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., with a cat named Mandy, she’s talking to her dead mother, Laura, and preparing a béchamel sauce with items from the neighborhood food bank. As she and Mandy partake of their unlit, gourmet meal, she re-examines her 47 years upon the Earth and how she’s kept her distance from other people—except to serve them delectable goods. Her “childhood light had gone out” after her mother drowned, but Laura’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook eventually changed Anise’s life, awakening her appreciation for food and connecting her to Laura’s spirit. (“She visits me when I cook,” Anise confessed to her best friend in high school.) Anise eventually stumbled upon a stack of love letters among Laura’s things—not written by Anise’s father. Feeling confused and betrayed, she attended a cooking institute, hoping to find her own recipe for happiness; she got a dream job in a New York City bakery, which stole her ideas. One day, she came home to find her apartment in flames. After returning to Buffalo, through the redemption of fresh bread and her mother’s cookbook, she opened a humble, thriving bakery—until the tragic arrival of Pete, an Iraqi War veteran. “Humans act strange if left alone too long,” according to the novel’s omniscient narrator—a binding philosophy for Swanson’s powerful life study, as Anise encounters several odd, lonely characters on her numerous roads to salvation. Throughout the author’s taut, sometimes raw narrative, Anise’s distrust borders on misanthropy and makes her less than sympathetic, but strengthens the author’s message. Cast out into the cold streets, a pleasant surprise awaits Anise—but it may come a little too late to clear the wisps of melancholy that overwhelm Swanson’s tale.

A concise, cautionary tale about a woman exchanging pain for trust. 

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615777870

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Dorsett, McClaughlin & Whitney

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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