THE STRANGER NEXT DOOR

Country life and neighborliness are fat targets in this savage little story, the US debut for young Brussels-based Nothomb, whose previous five novels have won acclaim in France. êmile Hazel, retired high-school classics teacher, relocates to the south of France with his wife Juliette, to what is for them a dream house, isolated and picturesque, and thus in every way the antithesis of their former city lives. On their second day of bliss, however, a knock on the door gives them a jolt, as their only neighbor, the grotesquely obese Dr. Bernardin, barges in for a cup of coffee. He stays for hours but won't converse, answering questions mostly in monosyllables. He proceeds to drop by punctually every day thereafter, with no change in attitude, forcing the Hazels to try a range of futile tactics to deter him. Even second-guessing fails: A dinner invitation to Bernardin and his wife, whom at first he steadfastly refuses to bring with him, results in a memorable evening as a bloated parody of a woman (nicknamed ``the cyst'' by her hosts) accompanies Bernardin and makes a meal of the chocolate sauce meant for dessert. The neighbor's solo visits continue, until finally êmile resorts to plain rudeness and shoves him violently out the door. The doctor does not return, but soon after a bout of insomnia allows êmile to rescue his neighbor from a suicide attempt, an act that binds them together in increasingly mysterious ways as the rescuer comes to realize the cruelty in his original gesture—and to make amends in a way that reveals alarming, unsuspected elements of his personality. This isn't the first time that the veneer of civilization has been stripped away to show monstrous urges beneath, but the tables turn here in a particularly eerie, chilling manner, in a combination of psychological astuteness and considerable craftsmanship.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-4841-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Henry Holt

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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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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