I finished a couple of books recently that I wanted to talk about and didn’t get around to, so I’m putting both of them into a single post.
And, hell, it ain’t like Stephen King needs my help. You already know what you’re getting with this guy; every word he’s ever written is a bestseller and there’s no one who reads who hasn’t read at least a couple of his books at some point or another. If It Bleeds, which the cover helpfully informs us is “NEW FICTION,” is another novella collection, and I’m mostly mentioning it just because I really felt like all four of the stories were winners. The title story is another entry in the Bill Hodges/Holly Gibney series, following up on the events of The Outsider, and at least two of the three remaining stories either managed to get directly under my skin or made me feel personally judged, so I’ve got to count that as a positive. In particular, the opening sequence to The Life of Chuck, which is about the slow and inexplicable end of the world, can’t really be read in 2020 without fucking with your head a little bit, and Mr. Harrigan’s Phone has a great sort of Apt Pupil vibe to it that I liked a lot. If you already know you’re not a fan this isn’t going to change your mind, but I am, and this is one of King’s stronger efforts recently.
While King has damn near 100% name recognition, I suspect a number of you haven’t heard of Brit Bennett, and The Vanishing Half was my first exposure to her work as well. This was another book that I picked up specifically because I’m focusing on books by women of color this year and the description caught my eye, and is yet another perfect example of why I do things like this in the first place.
There is no trace of the supernatural anywhere in this book, which also places it at least a little bit outside what I normally read; it’s set mostly in the past, but not quite far back enough (the story ends in the late 1980s) to really call it historical fiction, so do I have to haul out literature again? It’s a novel, we’ll leave it at that. The premise of the story is that two very light-skinned black twins are born in the town of Mallard, Louisiana, a place so small it doesn’t show up on maps. Eventually the twins basically flee Mallard in the middle of the night for New Orleans, and then separate from each other: one to pass for white and disappear into wealthy white society, and the other of whom marries the darkest-skinned man she can find and has a child that, by everyone’s estimation, looks nothing like her. The book then follows both characters and their daughters over the next several decades.
The book is all about how we construct our identity; nearly every character is either hiding part of their identity or fighting against the identity that society or biology has imposed on them or both, and I finished it in less than a day. It’s brilliant and you will see it again at the end of the year; right now it’s a top-5 entry and fighting with Conjure Women and Scarlet Odyssey for the top spot.