SONG YET SUNG

The slave-owning culture of Maryland’s eastern shore in the 1850s comprises the world of McBride’s second novel (following Miracle at St. Anna, 2002, and the bestselling memoir The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother, 1996).

Recaptured runaway slave Liz Spocott, wounded by a musket blast and chained to fellow runaways in the attic of “trader”-crime boss Patty Cannon, learns “the Code” by which embattled slaves communicate and survive from a skeletal woman (“The old Woman With No Name”) and, acting on a chance opportunity, escapes again. The novel then assumes the shape of a series of quests and pursuits. Liz wanders along a perilous route which she hopes will lead her to the Freedom Train, hence northward to safety—accompanied and bedeviled by prophetic “visions” that reach far into “the future of the colored race.” The latter are often eerily compelling, but when “the Dreamer” Liz “sees” rap and hip-hop performances, and eventually Martin Luther King’s “Free At Last” speech, the novel groans under the weight of forced Significance. Far more compelling are parallel tales: of the Woolman, a gigantic black who lives in a swamp and keeps an alligator named Gar; widowed landowner Kathleen Sullivan, unhinged by sexual longing for her handsome young slave Amber; and Denwood Long, a former slave-catcher lured out of retirement to return Liz to her irate owner Colonel Spocott. While its language is frequently stiff and unconvincing, the book has great compensatory strengths. McBride views the “peculiar institution” of slavery from an impressive multiplicity of involved characters’ and observers’ viewpoints. He describes emotionally charged, hurried actions superbly, and he makes expert use of folklore, legend and the eponymous unsung song (which we do eventually hear). In Denwood’s grim, fatalistic pursuit of his destiny, McBride has fashioned a myth of retribution and sacrifice that recalls both William Faulkner’s sagas of blighted generations and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Explosively dramatic.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59448-972-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more