A tale about the difficulty of communication that suffers from that same problem.

EITHER OR ELSE NOR

An unnamed man and woman reunite to talk about life, love, and what went wrong in this debut novella.

A woman texts a man out of the blue to meet and talk. He agrees. “Let’s start from the end,” he says as they drive around in his car, get food, and attempt to say the things that need to be said. But conversation proves harder than he imagined. They make small talk about his daughter, movies, and television shows. Sometimes they say nothing at all. Then one of them makes an effort: “This time he broke the silence and asked her, ‘Do you know anything about nothing?’ Now she let the question sink in and after an elongated pause replied, ‘Nothing.’ This infuriated him and he said, ‘You are not allowed to skip it as I want to know what you know rather than what not.’ ” They pull into a park and walk around in the night, discussing the purpose of lies, the momentary nature of life, and the pressure of expectations. They drive to a graveyard, finally at ease with each other, and try to describe the hollowness that they feel in their lives. Is one night long enough to reveal everything in the human heart? Is such an act even possible with someone you love? The novella has an intriguing premise and a simple, clear structure, and one could imagine a version of it that gets at the universal need for closure following a significant relationship. But Gupta places unnecessary constraints on himself by refusing to allow the characters to be specific people. The unnamed protagonists converse in a manner that is likewise anonymous, avoiding references to particular individuals or events in favor of abstract philosophical discussions. These talks are made all the more difficult to follow due to the author’s shaky, obfuscating syntax (which is accurately reflected in the work’s odd title): “There was some ad playing on the radio in a low volume giving a background score to dilute the friction. Every word wanting to come out seemed fake and hollow. His phone was resting in front of him and it reminded him of the text she sent today, ‘Can we talk till we have nothing to talk?’ ” As a result, the story feels fractured and self-indulgent rather than illuminating.

A tale about the difficulty of communication that suffers from that same problem.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64587-244-3

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Notion Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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