CHINA LAKE

A long-thought-out espionage tale, about a dense and tangled search into the past that means to reveal something about the dense and tangled nature of man himself. Hyde (The Red Fox, 1985) again echoes le CarrÇ's bathysphere style and bottomless paragraphs, those shining flakes of analysis that lead into ever deeper analysis. Here, someone is out to kill retired naval security officer Jack Tannis, who lives near the China Lake Weapons Center in California's Mojave Desert. It was at China Lake that the air-to-air, heat-seeking Sidewinder missile, which gave total air superiority to US jet fighters, was invented and developed in the 50's. Somehow the Russians came up with an identical missile. China Lake scientist David Harper was set up to take the fall as the sellout spy. But intelligence officer Jack Tannis stood up for Harper, proved his innocence. Even so, Harper, discredited, lost all hope of pursuing a scientific career, went home to England, and became a nature photographer for public television. His wife Diana divorced him. Now, in 1985, Tannis finds himself almost assassinated in the desert; and then in the Welsh countryside, while hanging from a cliff-face and filming a rare eagle in flight, Harper too is the victim of an attempted murder. But...was he saved by a rope thrown to him by Tannis, whom he's not seen in 25 years? Tannis is gifted with somewhat magical powers of deduction, whose unleavings we follow inward leaf by leaf—a kind of parallel power to Harper's gift for semimagical infrared guidance systems. Harper's ex-wife Diana commits suicide but leaves behind a letter that eventually drives Harper into East Berlin and a search through the German rocket museum at Dorn, then to a cave on the rim of China Lake—where Tannis unknots the great mystery of Harper's life. Though its final unravelings become quite thin, and whether Hyde's endless deductive style really holds is questionable, this is a winner. Anyone reading to the end is presold on the genre and knows its shortfall.

Pub Date: May 7, 1992

ISBN: 0-679-41084-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1992

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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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