DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT

A NOVEL

Another of Tyler's family portraits: again she draws forth that elusive aura of redemptive family unity—despite snapped loyalties, devastating loneliness, and the conflicts between those who hit life hard and those who "live life at a slant." Ezra Tull—one of Tyler's gentle, bumbling men—is, unlike his meddlesome, reproachful mother Pearl, a "feeder." And at his "Homesick Restaurant," an untidy establishment where he'll solicitously "cook what other people felt homesick for," Ezra sometimes hopefully sets a table for family occasions. But "the family as a whole never yet finished one of his dinners—it was as if what they couldn't get right they had to keep returning to." The family, you see, has never been "right" since that day years before when Pearl's husband Beck left them for good: overburdened with the raising of three young children, lonely and friendless, Pearl became an angry sort of mother to them all, raising them each with a "trademark flaw." Older brother Cody is handsome, bland, a prankster who hides the unloved rage of an unfavorite son—and this drives him to steal Ezra's fiancé Ruth for his own wife. Sister Jenny, deserted by her second husband, given to child abuse, hurt and overworked, is rescued by the family. Gentle Ezra is stuck with mother Pearl—though he comes to see "her true interior self, still enormous, larger than life, powerful. Overwhelming." And when Cody's teenage son Luke hitchhikes, on the crest of one of Cody's pristine rages, from the Virginia home to Ezra in Baltimore, he too is inundated with family miseries. Finally, then, Pearl dies and the family will gather again at the restaurant. But this time they'll be joined by the near-mythical old Beck Tull: can he now ever be part of the family? Well, perhaps—because a life's anger seems to drain as Cody sees all his family "opening like a fan," drawing him in—and Beck, an old man who could not, long ago, take the "tangles" of family, will stay "until the dessert wine." Less magical, perhaps, than other Tylers—but her vision of saving interdependencies and time's witchiness continues to tease and enchant.

Pub Date: March 26, 1982

ISBN: 0449911594

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more