Amusing as snarky social commentary on the world of Seattle have-nots.

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LAKE CITY

Lane was sure he had escaped Lake City for good. But suddenly he's back slicing meat at a discount deli counter and grubbing his mom's boyfriend's beers. This calls for extreme measures.

Lake City is a neighborhood on the fringes of Seattle: "the mistress that grown-up Seattle kept around from its younger, untamed years. The one with electric blue eyeliner and a missing incisor," "the leaky, yellowed fridge in a remodeled kitchen of granite countertops and fresh stainless steel appliances." In other words, the part of town left behind by the Microsoft/Amazon/Starbucks explosion. After landing a wealthy girlfriend at the University of Washington, Lane was able to leave his trashy roots behind and reinvent himself as a married Columbia grad student in New York City. But shortly after 9/11, the dream is over—Lane’s wife, Mia, has been supporting the couple and paying Lane's tuition with her family’s money, but now her father is instructing her to dump Lane and cut off funds. Lane finds himself back home at Christmastime, sleeping in his mom's TV room, driving her car, working at the local Fred Meyer discount store, trying desperately to avoid being reabsorbed into the loser lifestyle of the drug- and booze-addled locals he grew up with. In a frantic bid to make enough cash to get back to New York and reclaim his beautiful life, he gets involved in a creepy scheme a wannabe adoptive couple has cooked up to sabotage their little boy's birth mother so they will be awarded permanent custody. Kohnstamm (Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, 2008) stirred up a hullaballoo with his Hunter S. Thompson–style exposé/memoir of the travel-guide industry; a cynical worldview and gonzo aesthetic remain in play here. His delusional, narcissistic antihero and unsympathetic supporting characters—some dangerously close to offensive stereotypes—don't catch many breaks as they ricochet from one nasty situation to the next, with cheap beer, repellent food (beware a riff on the composition of deli turkey), illegal drugs, and other local specialties never far from hand.

Amusing as snarky social commentary on the world of Seattle have-nots.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64009-142-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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