Komarnicki doesn’t spell things out, and his novel’s ambiguities thus become its greatest strengths.

READ REVIEW

WAR

A nameless soldier traverses the destroyed “unlandscape” of an unidentified war, and the mine-strewn territories of his own memory, in the industrious screenwriter-director’s third novel (Famine, 1997, etc.).

As we learn from terse fragments of juxtaposed narrative and recollection, the sardonic narrator accepted enlistment in lieu of imprisonment for numerous petty crimes and violent acts. He was subsequently placed in de facto solitary confinement, programmed to accept discipline and sent into combat in a place that may be a perpetually embattled Middle East. Surviving the firebombing of the abandoned hotel where his unit is quartered, he discovers among other survivors both his embittered superior officer (“R.”) and a fellow soldier (“Mc.”), who may have betrayed his companions. But neither man is who he seems; places in which the narrator finds himself fade and dissolve into other places; and figures from his past (his abusive father and passive mother, affectionate and dependent younger brother, the ex-wife he disappointed and lost) all assume rapidly altering accusatory forms. Komarnicki’s taut prose is generally vivid and seductive, enlivened by arresting figurative language (e.g., “memories lazy-Susaned by”). But the novel’s tone tends toward sonorousness and sententiousness, and there are arguably too many half-buried literary allusions (echoes of Dante’s Inferno and Ambrose Bierce’s classic story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” are both unmistakable and oppressive; but the nicely detailed implicit picturing of the narrator as a battle-weary Robinson Crusoe rings both true and fresh). Many readers will also be reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak allegorical novel The Road. But Komarnicki’s novel remains elusive, as its subtly handled climax keeps us wondering whether the narrator has hallucinated his last moments on a terminally scorched earth, or whether he can manage to survive the worst with which life can threaten him, by the simple expedient of having learned to value it.

Komarnicki doesn’t spell things out, and his novel’s ambiguities thus become its greatest strengths.

Pub Date: July 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-55970-866-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008

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

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more