Required reading for Ferrante fans and scholars of Neapolitan literature.



Stories and essays from post–WWII Naples describe the poor and the wealthy alike.

In 1953, Ortese, an Italian writer, published a book that so infuriated her hometown of Naples that she left and only returned once over the next five decades. She was apparently a great influence on Elena Ferrante, and in this capable new translation into English, it’s not hard to see why. In stories and essays, Ortese describes both the Neapolitan poor and the bourgeois in granular detail. In “A Pair of Eyeglasses,” she writes of Eugenia, a young girl whose family has scraped together the cost of a pair of eyeglasses, which Eugenia desperately needs. While Eugenia waits, ecstatic, for the glasses to arrive, the narrator describes the unappealing sights she will soon be able to see: “Her mother slept with her mouth open, her broken yellow teeth visible; her brother and sister…were always dirty and snot-nosed and covered with boils.” Ortese can be sentimental at times, even heavy-handed with her topics. Both those habits are in display in “Eyeglasses.” But in “Family Interior,” she is more restrained. In that story, Anastasia Finizio, the nearly-40-year-old “daughter of Angelina Finizio and the late Ernesto,” supports her entire family, including a mother, aunt, sister, two brothers, as well as her soon-to-be sister-in-law. Meanwhile, a man from Anastasia’s past turns up, and she begins to doubt her choices. Ortese’s restraint gives way in the two essays that end the book. In “The Silence of Reason,” she provides a vivid portrait of a group of young Neapolitan writers despite some rather bloated pontificating (“The miserable conditions of this land are due to the incompatibility of two equally great forces—nature and reason—which are irreconcilable, no matter what the optimists say”). But the true pleasure of this book is Ortese’s penchant for strange, extended, entirely counterintuitive similes, as in this one, which appears in the essay mentioned above: “He felt the same terror as one who has flung himself at a puppet swinging from a tree and suddenly discovers that it is not a puppet but the corpse of a hanged man, and he feels something around his own neck and realizes that he himself is hanging from the branch of a tree.”

Required reading for Ferrante fans and scholars of Neapolitan literature.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-939931-5-11

Page Count: 192

Publisher: New Vessel Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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