A brisk, accomplished horror debut from an author to watch.

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CROW CREEK

In Drago’s debut novel, an insidious horror reveals itself in a small North Carolina town.

The town of Crow Creek is experiencing two tragedies: In the dramatic foreground, a massive sinkhole has suddenly opened up on King Street, swallowing cars and businesses and very nearly some citizens; in the background, the town has seen an inordinate number of inexplicable suicides in recent years. The sinkhole, which naturally takes precedence, opens underneath the normal day-to-day lives of a well-drawn cast of characters, including loutish Stan “Krully” Krulikowski, a branch manager at Crow Creek Savings; and Sheriff Brad Gleason, who’s taking care of his father, the previous sheriff. (Drago writes of the old man’s decline into senility with memorable sensitivity.) Gleason is the kind of guy that others turn to in times of crisis, but his young daughter Maddie was one of the town’s suicides two years ago (“She drove up to Ninth Street on lunch break one afternoon, waited for a Southern Railways freight car, and ended her life. Plain and simple. Left her keys in the ignition with the car running”), and he’s as puzzled as everyone else in town about what’s driving so many people to take their own lives. Those deaths are regularly commemorated by the town’s enigmatic cleric, Pastor Aken, and Drago develops Aken’s darkness so skillfully that by the time readers actually meet the pastor in person, it’s no surprise that he’s the villain of the story. As Sheriff Gleason agonizes over hearing the disembodied voice of his dead daughter, the author grippingly weaves issues of faith and the afterlife into his bubbling plot. Drago’s major literary influence is fairly obvious; the small town of quirky locals, the dogged teamwork amid adversity, and the compelling, central figure of evil are very much Stephen King’s territory. However, Drago navigates this terrain with considerable skill and a good ear for dialogue and deadpan humor.

A brisk, accomplished horror debut from an author to watch.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615982663

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Gold Avenue Press

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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