A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power.

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BLACKBIRD HOUSE

With a dozen stories, some more clearly connected than others but all set in the same farmhouse on Cape Cod from the time of the British blockade to the present, Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2002, etc.) creates a continuous narrative built up through a sense of place.

Blackbird House was built “On the Edge of the World” by a fisherman lost, along with his younger son, during what he’d hoped was to be his last sea voyage before settling down to farm. “The Witch of Truro” is actually Ruth, a desperate orphan who finds love and security with a kindly one-legged blacksmith on the farm. When Ruth’s husband dies years later, her daughter buries “The Token” to help her recover. These stories lean heavily on symbolism—fire, water, the color red, a white blackbird—but Hoffman has grown in subtlety, so that the recurring motifs and occasionally heightened realism work nicely within the book’s structure. At the center, three interlocking stories follow Violet, a bookish farm girl. She falls in love with a visiting Harvard professor who ends up marrying her prettier sister—but not before impregnating Violet. Violet marries a good man and happily raises three children on the farm. The oldest, unaware of his paternity, wins a scholarship to Harvard and leaves Cape Cod. When he dies in Europe years later, Violet brings home his son to raise. That grandson returns from WWII with a Jewish wife, a Holocaust survivor ready to meet the challenge of Violet’s fierce love. In the ’50s and ’60s, unhappiness hovers over the farm: murder, resentments, suicide. But in the concluding pieces, about a family that must rebuild itself after confronting a child’s bout with leukemia, the farm becomes a source of love and renewal. While family names come and go (and sometimes reappear), the farm undergoes its own evolution.

A quiet but deeply moving achievement of lyric power.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-0-385-50761-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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