An intriguing, if overloaded, version of the Odyssey.

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Ulysses Dream

A TIMELESS ROMANCE

Honduran refugee Penelope shares the story of her life and her husband, Ulysses, a Native American who becomes a warrior in Vietnam, in this debut work of contemporary fiction.

In a Native American lodge in Eastern Oregon, Penelope, an “elder” in the Sundown family, wishes to relate the “ancient story” of the Odyssey but is urged to tell the tale of “our people and your life” instead. And so begins her first-person recounting of her birth in Honduras in 1954, her experience as a child sex slave for the M-13 gang, and her eventual escape to the Pacific Northwest. In this new world, she meets Ulysses Looking Glass “Ulee” Sundown, a pastor’s son and talented athlete, albeit with a growing record of violence. Both are 15 when Ulee kills a visiting M-13 thug and then signs up to serve in Vietnam to avoid second-degree murder charges. He becomes a skilled killer soldier yet also helps out at a local orphanage. Penelope proposes to Ulysses on leave, but he soon annuls the marriage, believing he’ll die in combat in Vietnam. Penelope gives birth to their son, Telemachus, and studies to become a doctor. The lovers finally reunite and remarry in the 1970s, after Ulee has fought in Israel and escaped a POW camp, among other exploits. They move for a time to Los Angeles for Penelope’s medical career, with Ulee by turns a professional football player, Olympics track medal winner, and impassioned minister. Penelope eventually returns to Honduras to build medical facilities, where she faces figures from her past. White (Astoundingly Joyful, Amazingly Simple, 2012, etc.), the senior pastor of Washington Cathedral in Redmond, weaves a rich tapestry of minority and marginalized experiences into his sophomore fiction effort. His updating of Homer is by turns amusing (a modern-day Telemachus) and astute (“Vietnam was an addiction, just as the Trojan War was for his namesake”). Yet the narrative struggles under the weight of its competing protagonists and multiple plot strands, with Penelope’s horrible childhood as well as adult showdown in the Honduras, for example, rather hurriedly conveyed as well as eclipsed by Ulee’s many intense and dramatic adventures.  

An intriguing, if overloaded, version of the Odyssey.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-63393-296-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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