A haunting and undeniably powerful work marred by its own excesses.

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IN THE CITY OF SHY HUNTERS

Sexual abuse, incest, pansexualism, and Native American spirituality—explored so well by Spanbauer in the cult favorite The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1991)—combine with early–AIDS-era New York for a work that’s utterly fresh but crammed with enough characters, subplots, coincidences, and romances to keep several telenovelas churning for years.

Will Parker may stutter and be both sexually confused and dysfunctional, but he’s a real people magnet. Having escaped provincial Jackson Hole for 1983 Manhattan, he’s not five minutes at LaGuardia before he’s hooked up with Two Shots, a Native American van-driver, and Ruby, his gay male side-kick; in no time they’ve settled Will into his Lower East Side digs and themselves into his life. East Fifth Street is crowded with the requisite New Yorkers of fiction: across the hall is a mad cat-lady, upstairs is Rose, the tough African-American drag queen/performance artist with a heart of gold, and downstairs is the junkie superintendent. Hackneyed types to be sure, but with sharp dialogue and details, Spanbauer infuses them with new life. Waiting tables, Will meets Fiona, a rough-mouthed, Greenwich, Connecticut, would-be artiste who takes Will under her wing and under the sheets. There’s plenty of graphic, although not gratuitous, sex as Will trades experience and love for self-knowledge. As 1983 moves on to ’84 and ’85, AIDS takes over: co-workers die, friends disappear, Rose—now a lover of Will’s—sickens, Fiona’s two brothers die. The slow slide into the world of the epidemic, with its sense of unreality and despair, has never been better realized. But there’s too much more going on here: a murder, a squatters’ riot in a local park, cultural repatriation, and Elizabeth Taylor, arriving for a slow dance with her best friend Rose. Will’s occasional and abrupt flights into magical realism only serve to make the story—already saddled with superfluous, undisciplined subplots—feel more out of control.

A haunting and undeniably powerful work marred by its own excesses.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1691-4

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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