Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her...

DISTANT SHORES

Another middle-aged mom in a muddle.

After years of false starts and big hopes, Elizabeth’s ruggedly handsome husband Jack, a former football star, just landed a spot as a sportscaster on national news. He still loves her, even though much younger women are giving him come-hither looks. Heck, he doesn’t want to betray the love of his life after she helped him kick drugs and stuck by him even when he was a struggling has-been. And won’t it seem hypocritical if he fools around with his sexy assistant while he does in-depth reporting on a rape case involving a famous basketball center? Well, he fools around anyway. Elizabeth, nicknamed Birdie, knows nothing of this, but she withdraws from Jack when her hard-drinking, salt-of-the-earth father has a stroke and dies. Now no one will call her “sugar beet” ever again. Time to return home to Tennessee and contend with Anita, the sort-of-evil stepmother so trashy she wears pink puffy slippers all day long. Naturally, it turns out that Anita actually has a heart of gold and knows a few things about Birdie’s dead mother that were hushed up for years. Mom was an artist, just like Birdie, and an old scandal comes to light as Anita unrolls a vibrant canvas that portrays her secret lover. Perhaps, Birdie muses, her mother died of heartbreak, never having followed her true love or developed her talent. Has she, too, compromised everything she holds dear? Hoping to find out, Birdie joins a support group that promises to reconnect confused women with their passion. She and Jack separate, prompting a how-dare-you fit from their grown daughters. Will Birdie fly her empty nest? Will she go back to college for a degree in art? Will her brooding watercolors ever sell?

Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her previous tales (Summer Island, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-45071-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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