A deft mixture of contrasting tones distinguishes this vigorous novel about the New York art scene ``Before'' and ``After'' the Age of AIDS, by the gifted author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1989) and White People (stories: 1991). Narrator Hartley Mims, a writer who migrated in 1980, when he was in his early 30s, from Falls, North Carolina, to Manhattan, begins his story with a Prologue set 14 years later, on the occasion of the horrifying, lingering death of his friend and soulmate Robert Gustafson, long renowned as ``the prettiest boy in New York,'' though only minimally acclaimed as the composer of an ambitious musical work whose theme is the launching and sinking of the Titanic. That image, along with several equally telling monitory metaphors (a street mugging that causes scarring and temporary blindness, friends first meeting at a VD clinic, Mahler's ``Songs for Dead Children''), casts an ominous shadow over vividly evoked scenes of erotic play, artistic (and artful) posturing and clowning, and the up-and-down friendships that bond Hartley forever with his beloved (bisexual) Robert, their best gal-pal, heterosexual Angelina ``Alabama'' Byrnes (a Jackson Pollocklike painter with a splash or two of real genius), and several other intimates who, like Hartley, exercise their gayness in a feverish atmosphere that only gradually reveals its lethal malignity. The writing is pure pleasure throughout: alert, witty, and studded with virtuoso phrasemaking. Yet one must object that by sentimentalizing his characters as doomed ``children'' (a theme adumbrated by the witty title), Gurganus risks robbing them of their dignity as responsible adults. The point, of course, is that they're both. Gurganus may not, therefore, be the spokesman for his generation that Plays Well seems to claim, but he's unquestionably one of its most provocative and interesting stylists. (First printing of 100,000)*justify no*

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 1997

ISBN: 0-394-58914-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1997

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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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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.


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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