Schoellkopf’s new book is a tense, chatty, upscale New York set-piece informed by art history, color theory, acquisitiveness, drug abuse and much speculation about things spiritual and metaphysical.

In his latest, Schoellkopf (New York Measure, 2008, etc.) interleaves chapters of a fictional dysfunctional family memoir with short biographical sketches of artists Mark Rothko and Ernest Ludwig Kirchner—each notable for his highly personal use of color as well as his suicide. Happily for Peter, the sympathetic narrator-patriarch of this dynastic romance, the death toll is lower—only one of his three daughters, downtown gallerist/junkie Carol, eventually succumbs. But she just might be the lucky one, as her surviving sisters Helen and Nancy soldier on to attend yet another emotionally draining gathering in which high-stakes deals are brokered, sibling rivalry flares up and glib debates about various imponderables flow and eddy endlessly. While the novel’s timeline is willfully obscure (chic heroin use and AIDS appear to be newcomers to the New York art scene), the quest for status among the power elite is eternal. Like the lethally self-absorbed Manhattanites in Woody Allen’s Interiors or an Alex Katz painting, the ladies in question and their partners and various attendants natter on and on, never particularly making their point and never quite being persuaded by their peers, either. Is a black-and-white photograph “real art”? Are Helen’s beloved sub-Rembrandt Dutch genre paintings merely decorative? Is that zillion-dollar Rothko a status symbol or a religious experience on canvas? And what truly gives life value? All of this is open for debate, and debate they do. Only the author’s deft handling of these mostly unlovable characters and their windy discourse keeps the reader turning the pages of this surprisingly sly, Stefan Zweig-influenced novella. A dry Chablis and The 20th Century Art Book might prove useful to readers. While the greedy, talky sisters fail to engage, Schoellkopf’s bios of the doomed Rothko and Kirchner are exquisitely bleak.


Pub Date: May 11, 2009

ISBN: 978-0981865850

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Arbor

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 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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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.


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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