An atmospheric, evocative tale of youth endeavoring to live free.

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THE ELECTRIC AFFINITIES

A free-love opus set in a bygone era.

Ben Steinberg, a successful architect, hosts a collective of artists and free spirits in his Sag Harbor, N.Y., house in 1969. Among the damaged but earnest people that move through his home are Andre, a director; Robert, a Vietnam War veteran; Carolina, a spiritual youth endeavoring to live without restraint; and Maya, the apex of a romantic triangle that consumes her suitors. The plot follows a fairly straightforward design: As the year progresses, each character wrestles with their own particular demons. Robert’s disenchantment with the world is reified in his aversion to visiting his wealthy grandmother, the woman who raised him; for Carolina, it’s an evolving quest to live as freely as possible that, eventually, takes her away from Sag Harbor. But the plot, as it is, feels secondary here. The real tension comes from within. Working with a true ensemble cast, Stevenson explores the radical aspirations of each of his characters while balancing them against the dramatic irony of a world that didn’t turn out quite the way it was supposed to. Perhaps the best stand-in for the contemporary reader is Robert. He may have been disillusioned by his experience overseas (as readers may have been by the course of history), but he yearns for some kind of meaning in his life, something true to aspire toward. The same goes for everybody in the novel; amid pain and loneliness, they look for some kind of purpose in a world that doesn’t seem prepared to accept them. It’s a familiar enough theme for books set in the late 1960s, but Stevenson’s effortless prose brings a freshness to what could otherwise have easily been a trite tale of hippie naïveté. He laces the story with insightful mantras throughout: “It’s not like cooking—there’s no measuring cup. Freedom has to be unconditional or not at all.” The narrative movements here are subtle, often more interested in providing a full picture of the characters’ struggles than in building a propulsive plot. At times, the pace may feel sluggish for some, but readers willing to stick with it will be rewarded with a stunning resolution.

An atmospheric, evocative tale of youth endeavoring to live free.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60964-148-1

Page Count: 330

Publisher: BlazeVOX

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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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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