Admirers of Pelevin’s fiction should attempt it. But it’s too much of a maze—and there’s nothing to show the way out.

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THE HELMET OF HORROR

THE MYTH OF THESEUS AND THE MINOTAUR

The classical myth is reinterpreted with black-comic brio in this odd new novel from the internationally acclaimed Russian author (The Life of Insects, 1998, etc.).

Marketed as “Mythology” (and part of Canongate’s ongoing series “The Myths”), it’s a computer-age consideration of the meanings incarnated in the Greek adventurer Theseus, the monstrous (half-man, half-bull) Minotaur and the maze in which they meet. The novel’s form is an extended conversation taking place in an Internet chat room, among several e-mailers who are themselves confined within individual mazes that appear to be parts of an encompassing labyrinth. At least this is the eventually shared opinion of Ariadne (the Greek maiden whose clever placement of a thread guided Theseus in and out of his maze), aging Lothario Romeo-y-Cohiba, computer geek Nutscracker, booze-obsessed materialist Sartrik, sex-obsessed IsoldA (a self-described combination of the Mona Lisa and Monica Lewinsky) and others. Is the Minotaur the creation of Asterisk, a “boundlessly and infinitely powerful being” avenging himself on humans who had turned against him? Or something that exists only in the “chatters’” heads?—or are they what the beast itself imagines and dreams? Pelevin evidently enjoys himself more than most readers will, toying with theoretical possibilities while analyzing the nature of such mazes as that in an “amusement arcade,” the Roman catacombs, the gardens at Versailles, penitential labyrinths dug beneath churches and cathedrals and—of course—the Internet itself. Random clues suggest a satire on the “monstrous” commercialism and criminality that toppled the U.S.S.R. and labored puns liken computer “savers” to saviours (is Pelevin after all Russia’s Thomas Pynchon?). But it’s all exposition and explication, and it’s tiresome.

Admirers of Pelevin’s fiction should attempt it. But it’s too much of a maze—and there’s nothing to show the way out.

Pub Date: April 18, 2006

ISBN: 1-84195-760-7

Page Count: 275

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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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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