Britisher Craig’s US debut is a perspicacious relationship drama, with some nicely researched academic touches for the...

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IN A DARK WOOD

A seething, hollowed-out, soon-to-be-divorced actor is obsessed by his dead mother’s fairy tales.

Laura Perry, the mother of narrator Benedick Hunter, was an American in 1960s London and a children’s book illustrator of some repute when she hanged herself after her handsome columnist husband left her for another woman. Benedick, nearly 40, mostly unemployed, and suspended by an emotional thread after his own novelist wife left him (with their two small children) to live with her posh publisher, stumbles again upon his mother’s North of Nowhere stories with their eerie, haunting illustrations. In his leisurely state of self-loathing and despair, he sets out to unearth the true story behind her suicide by following the shadowy lead of her grim fairy tales of innocent, virtuous girls lured into the dark wood (Craig acknowledges her debt to the work of Ellen Handler Spitz, Alison Lurie, and Marina Warner). His reckless quest takes him and his son Cosmo to the wilderness of the States, to New York City, and to the original woods of “the Carolinas,” where Craig can let fly her criticisms of American obesity, automatic cars, and fast food. While Benedick’s children are scene-stealers, the younger women in his life, including his wife and the predatory singles who call him relentlessly, are shredded maliciously. Benedick’s tempestuous moods are effectively, even amusingly, delineated, and despite his swampy self-pity (his successful father is “a wicked old bastard who has never loved me”), the reader ends up cheering for him when he meets his charming southern cousin Rose, a dead-ringer for his mother. Disastrously, Benedick learns that he suffers from manic-depression, but his bad moods, with medication, vanish like magic—rendering most disappointing the requisite hospital ending of this neatly written emotional saga.

Britisher Craig’s US debut is a perspicacious relationship drama, with some nicely researched academic touches for the literary set.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50262-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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