A one-dimensional portrait dampens what could be a relatable story.



Duffy’s first novel follows a man named Phillip on his retail and relationship journeys as he works at a novelty store in Times Square.

Phillip works as a stock boy at a Times Square store called Milton’s World of Fun, which sells literature-inspired toys and gifts. Phillip, who has a college degree, wants a better job to gain financial stability and to be able to confidently pursue a relationship. When he’s rejected from the New York City Teaching Fellows program, he decides to focus his efforts on getting a promotion from replenishment to the sales floor; unfortunately, senior management isn’t supportive, and Phillip’s work and potential remain overlooked. In the meantime, Phillip tries online dating and meets Melissa, a lawyer who lives in Queens and has similar taste in movies as Phillip. They begin dating, but Phillip isn’t honest about his job: He tells Melissa he’s a teacher. Feeling too much pressure to get a better apartment and to be able to take Melissa out on dates, he eventually ends things. The situation at work continues to be discouraging, and Phillip has no luck finding a job elsewhere. Just as his relationship with Melissa starts to gain ground again, a situation arises that threatens to reveal his real profession to Melissa. The end of the book takes a meta turn, as Phillip writes a memoir about working at Milton’s. The day-to-day minutiae of retail can be humorous, with anecdotes of co-workers’ antics and supervisors’ mismanagement that will be relatable to many readers. The book, however, doesn’t let the characters entertain or become engaging; there is virtually no dialogue, turning most situations into dull summaries of interactions and conversations. The happenings on the stockroom floor read like a procedural—“Any item that was open, missing a piece or in bad shape made its way to the damages and an employee was usually designated to process the destroyed goods through the system by subtracting them from the inventory using a scanner”—with the omniscient narrator expressing the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Phillip doesn’t want to be categorized as just a stock boy, but the telling of his experiences ends up being rather flat.

A one-dimensional portrait dampens what could be a relatable story.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1482693546

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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

Did you like this book?