Odd and unsatisfying.

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THE DEN

An exploration of loss spanning two centuries from the author of Lake People (2013).

Jane is 12 when her older sister, Henrietta, disappears from their New England town. This is sometime around the turn of the millennium and 20 years before Jane begins her tale. In the 1850s, Claire is still living at home with her parents when her older sister, Elspeth, stops sending letters from America. What unites these two narratives—aside from the coincidences—is a building in the woods. In Elspeth’s time, it’s the house her husband built for her and their children. In Jane’s time, it’s a ruin and the setting of fables her father tells his two girls. This is an ungainly book, more like two unfinished novels loosely stitched together than a coherent, multifaceted whole. Jane narrates her own story, but she never emerges as a real person. That she remains a shadow of her older sister makes psychological sense, but it makes for a boring character. And Henrietta herself is, in the sections narrated by Jane, little more than a sexually precocious loner and a bit of a jerk. It’s hard to see what makes her so fascinating that Jane doesn’t seem to have a life of her own even before Henrietta’s disappearance rips a hole in everything. And Henrietta remains inscrutable even when she’s describing her experiences in her own voice. More than that, the portion of the novel that covers Henrietta’s early days on her own is simply incredible. Readers are expected to believe that a 15-year-old girl with no form of identification is able to get two jobs and buy a car. The fact that one of these jobs is as the caretaker of an empty and isolated home is also fantastically convenient. This teen also pays for everything with crisp $100 bills that she clips from uncut sheets herself with scissors; this stolen fortune is another astonishingly lucky break for the runaway. The sections of the book set in the 19th century are slightly more compelling, but, even here, the text reads more like notes toward a novel than a finished work.

Odd and unsatisfying.

Pub Date: May 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-65528-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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