While it occasionally strays from pressing matters, this tale illuminates a bizarre investigation.

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THE BETHUNE MURALS

A NOVEL

A historical novel explores the relentless hunt for Communists in America in the 1950s.

It is 1953 and FBI agent Larry Crane is sent to the National Institutes of Health. His mission is to investigate Dr. Harold Hungerford, who has not yet signed a loyalty oath. The oath is meant to assure the U.S. government that Hungerford is not a Communist. The physician insists he is not one, though he refuses to sign the document. Crane wants to know whether Hungerford has ever associated with Communists. Hungerford divulges the name of Dr. Norman Bethune, a deceased Canadian physician, thinking that if he is going to give up a name, it might as well be someone who is dead. Bethune, or “Beth” as he was known, had a colorful past that included serving in World War I and tending to poor patients in Detroit. Beth, much like Hungerford, suffered from tuberculosis. Hungerford met him while both were recovering from the disease at a treatment facility in Saranac Lake, New York. Was Beth a Communist during his time there and was he using his influence to foment Soviet propaganda? The story goes on to examine the details of Beth’s stay and the impact his actions had years down the road. As strange as the whole situation might seem, Holtzman’s (Blame, 2016, etc.) book effectively portrays the truly frightening aspects of the Red Scare. Does the federal government really have a right to tell you what to sign and can it ruin your career if you refuse? The narrative raises such concerns, though it is unfocused in places. Not much of interest happens during Beth’s sojourn in Saranac Lake, outside of some tense moments when he receives an experimental treatment to intentionally collapse one of his lungs. An assortment of characters surrounding the facility and details of the dangers of asbestos provide some substance, though it is not until the spotlight returns to Hungerford that the story becomes engrossing. By 1953, Beth (who was a real person) is dead and tuberculosis is on the decline, but what about a man who, in the eyes of the government, is potentially tainted by association?

While it occasionally strays from pressing matters, this tale illuminates a bizarre investigation.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 251

Publisher: Cloudsplitter Press

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2018

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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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