Well-considered, engaging behind-the-scenes look at both the movie and TV industries.

DEATH OF A MOVIE STAR

A tawdry Hollywood game show is ground zero for celebrities to seek revenge against one another in Patrick’s (Tea Cups & Tiger Claws, 2014) darkly humorous novel.

The name says it all: StarBash thrives on ridiculing its thespian contestants. Audiences love it, and ratings couldn’t be better. But while participants are typically unemployed actors and has-beens fighting for the prize of a $10 million movie deal, no one knows why popular actor Cassandra Moreaux would sign on for its fourth season. Cass, however, has a personal reason: It’s the only way she can score a meeting with 87-year-old actor Lenora Danmore. Lenora initially launched StarBash to fund her interactive movie museum, convincing her reluctant manager, Micah Bailey, to act as the game show’s host. But Cass is more interested in an event 70 years in the past. She’s certain Lenora got her actor mother blacklisted as a communist. Though proof of this could blemish Lenora’s celluloid legacy, she doesn’t want Cass going anywhere. She’s planning to stoke ratings even further with contestant Brandi Bonacore, an actor who blames Cass for her own stalled career. Their inevitable feud becomes the latest season’s driving force as participants fall by the wayside. Around the same time, Cass learns that Micah is more than the Hollywood-loathing host he appears to be. She holds tight to her vendetta against Lenora while also becoming Brandi’s target for revenge. Regardless of how things unfold, Lenora may have a scheme of her own to counter any potential evidence Cass possesses. Patrick’s story is not an outright condemnation of Hollywood. For one, very little is known about additional contestants, including what presumed missteps have led them to StarBash. Likewise, much of the derision comes from Micah (as host), who even mocks penny-pinching guest Elmer and his tips on how to save money. The narrative’s true focus is the presumed artificiality of Hollywood’s denizens. Behind all that glamour, in other words, are genuine and struggling people. This is comically epitomized by glitzy New York Plaza Hotel as the fourth season’s setting. The cast actually lives in cramped trailers, films on California soundstages, and travels in vans with the crew to locations. Characters like Micah aren’t as insubstantial as they initially seem; he has such distaste for his hosting duties that he resists pressure from Lenora to hang on for seasons five and six. Furthermore, he and Cass unexpectedly bond by sharing their love of films. Cass loves the classics, while Micah prefers documentaries. The TV show’s concept is formulaic, but the cast continually evolves. Brandi’s contempt for Cass, for example, isn’t completely unfounded. The novel sometimes waxes profound, even when steeped in cynicism: “Almost anyone can be selfless, if they have enough time to think about it and to arrange the circumstances so that the unpleasant act will cause as little discomfort as possible.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular notion correlates with one character’s truly selfless deed.

Well-considered, engaging behind-the-scenes look at both the movie and TV industries.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9893544-5-5

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Country Scribbler Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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