If the elusive Pynchon regularly cranked out novels, then this latest addition to his semi-classic oeuvre would be considered an excellent, if flawed, fiction, not as demanding and complex as Gravity's Rainbow, nor as neat and clever as The Crying of Lot 49 and V. As it is, coming 17 years since the last book, it's something of a disappointment.

Yes, it's compulsively funny, full of virtuoso riffs, and trenchant in its anarcho-libertarian social commentary. But there's a missing dimension in this tale of post-Sixties malaise—a sense of characters being more than an accumulation of goofy allusions and weird behavior. And all of its winding, conspiratorially digressive plot adds up to a final moment of apparently unintentional kitsch—a limp scene reuniting a girl and her dog. Built on flashbacks to the 60's, the story reenacts in 1984 the struggles that refuse to disappear. Not politics really, but the sense of solidarity and betrayal that marks both periods for the numerous characters that wander into this fictional vortex. At the center is Frenesi (Free and Easy) Gates, who's anything but. A red-diaper baby and radical film-maker during the rebellion-charged 60's, Frenesi sold her soul to a man in uniform, the quintessential Nixon-Reagan fascist, Brock Vond, a fed whose manic pursuit of lefties and dopers finds him abusing civil rights over three decades. He's motivated not just by innate evil, but by his obsession with Frenesi, whom he sets up as a sting-operation expert protected under the Witness Protection Program. Meanwhile, the venomous Vond sees to it that Frenesi's hippie husband, Zoyd Wheeler, and her daughter, Prairie, are "disappeared" to Vineland, the northern California town where L.A. counterculturalists lick their collective wounds among the redwoods, and bemoan "the heartless power of the scabland garrison state the green free America of their childhoods even then was turning into." Brilliant digressions on Californian left-wing history, the saga of The People's Republic of Rock and Roll, a Mob wedding, and the living dead known as the Thanatoids all come bathed in the clarity of Pynchon's eye-popping language.

Pynchon's latest should prove to the legions of contemporary scribbler-fakers that it isn't enough to reproduce pop-schlock on the page, it needs to be siphoned through the kind of imaginative genius on display everywhere here.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0141180633

Page Count: 385

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1990

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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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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.


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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