Part history lesson, part coming-of-age story, this Vietnam-era tale delivers the kind of stirring details that can only...

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Luck of the Draw

The Summer of Love and the Vietnam War greatly affect several Pittsburgh-area baby boomers in this novel.

The lives of the young people of Milltowne, Pennsylvania, at the dawn of the 1960s are full of personal tussles, political and class affiliations, and one desperate desire for a nose job. Jenny Abruzzi is nicknamed “Honker,” but the family seeks approval from the parish priest before a nose job can be arranged. Art McGill, a young Richard Nixon fan, has his mind on the Pirates and their trip to the World Series. Due to some serendipitous seating arrangements, Jenny and her new nose are seated near McGill at a fateful World Series game that gives them a lasting connection. Redheaded Democrat Mike Mulligan has recently found himself, along with McGill, on the receiving end of “Whackin’ McCracken’s” paddle at school after the two were caught betting on the presidential election. As the years go by, college senior McGill watches from his fraternity house as President Nixon’s televised lottery for Vietnam War draft numbers is shown. Pre-emptively, McGill enlists, landing a stateside assignment as an MP. Jenny has come back into the picture, and she and McGill are together. His interest in the burgeoning anti-war movement lands him in trouble, and he is shipped off to Vietnam despite a contract assurance against it. With Mulligan in country as well, McGill is sent to the remote Dam Luc compound, where one year of warfare puts him and Mulligan in the greatest of peril. Morrison’s (The Energy Caper, 2008) new book deftly records the sights and sounds of ’60s and ’70s America and Vietnam through music, dialogue, and personal relationships that highlight the lofty aspirations, struggles, and upward mobility of the baby boomers. The sections in Vietnam, in particular, come alive with rich detail about the conflict and the sway and swagger of reluctant troops who rely on music, weed, and low-powered beer to get them through. This is a long book, and some parts of it meander too much, especially McGill’s postwar period in the early ’70s. But Morrison’s impressive amount of knowledge about the time period offers some fresh perspectives on these much-discussed years.

Part history lesson, part coming-of-age story, this Vietnam-era tale delivers the kind of stirring details that can only come from personal experience.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-929150-30-7

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Castalia Communications

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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