A rock novel good enough to wish you had an accompanying soundtrack.

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HOW THE MISTAKES WERE MADE

Seattle rocker Laura Loss, one-time teen bass player in her brother's successful early-'80s hardcore punk band SCC, recalls her ascent to grunge queen—and her descent into rock tabloid infamy—as drummer of the legendary '90s band the Mistakes.

Inspired by the spectacular rise and tragic demise of Nirvana, McMahon's first novel skillfully captures two rock movements. Brief flashbacks of SCC, whose story ends when Laura's stage-diving brother Anthony is brutally beaten by a skinhead, are interwoven with the story of the Mistakes, the accidental band that brings her out of retirement. She's working in a coffee shop when she meets two flannel-shirted, SCC-loving hayseeds from Montana: Sean, a withdrawn soul and genius guitarist who sees sounds as colors, and Nathan, a singer and bassist with a gift for writing intense lyrics about their messy lives. We see Laura go from being a reluctant den mother who agrees to help "the boys" start up a group to excited participant in the trio's unique, razor-edged sound—and sexual partners with Sean, whom she doesn't love, and then Nathan, whom she does. On the verge of making it big, the band derails following a physical altercation with a label executive. They sign with a label with troublesome commercial designs and discover that Sean, whose signature move is to fall from a height onto his guitar, isn't the same guitarist after he sobers up. Haunted by the fate of her brother, who remains in a vegetative state, Laura is determined to save Sean from a bad fate but ultimately can't—any more than she can save herself from being held bitterly accountable for the end of the Mistakes. McMahon stays in an enviable comfort zone: He never strains for effect or tries to sell his characters as myths, as much as they may resonate with the Kurt Cobains and Courtney Loves of the world. His female narration is so good, there is a Lorrie Moore–ness to Laura's intelligence, self-awareness and self-deprecating wit. And the descriptions of the performances give you a feel for why fans went crazy over the Mistakes.

A rock novel good enough to wish you had an accompanying soundtrack.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-65854-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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