Braver (Divine Sarah, 2004) makes an ambitious attempt to examine how accidents harden into fate and tries to coordinate too...

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CROWS OVER THE WHEATFIELD

A second’s inattention changes the shape of a woman’s life.

Claire Andrews is a well-respected van Gogh scholar and newly single university professor. Her life has a predictable pattern: teaching, researching, socializing with a few close friends. If she isn’t exactly going through the motions, she is at the very least treading a well-worn path, but after she strikes and kills a young boy with her car, the comfortable order of her world is permanently altered. Perhaps more disorienting than the accident itself are the responses it elicits. Claire’s university, anxious about bad publicity, wishes her to take a leave; her neighbors cannot meet her eye; and the boy’s family sues for wrongful death. In the midst of her trauma, Claire finds two bright spots: her estranged husband’s unexpectedly loyal response to her grief; and her own newfound curiosity about the last days of van Gogh’s life when he painted Crows Over the Wheatfield. Braver’s novel moves between Claire’s struggle to cope with the disintegration of her personal life in the wake of the accident, and a research trip to France during which she discovers new information about van Gogh. In both narratives, Claire is attuned to the significance of single moments in which the world and our perceptions of it can change in momentous and irreversible ways. Despite the care with which the author alternates between Claire’s scholarly and personal trials, a strategy echoed in the novel’s switching between passages about van Gogh’s trauma and Claire’s suffering, the juxtaposition can be both facile and jarring. The self-discoveries Claire makes in France have a formulaic, scripted quality that makes Claire unlikable and unbelievable. Prone to uttering sophomoric platitudes about art and life, Claire seems more concussed than introspective after her accident, a matter not helped by the stilted quality of the characters’ dialogue.

Braver (Divine Sarah, 2004) makes an ambitious attempt to examine how accidents harden into fate and tries to coordinate too many stories, yet he has no central character strong enough to synthesize them.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-078232-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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