Strictly for those who like experimental fiction.

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WHAT CAN I DO WHEN EVERYTHING’S ON FIRE?

A prolonged tempest in a demitasse in the demimonde of contemporary Lisbon.

Stealing marches on Faulkner and Joyce, Portuguese novelist Antunes (The Inquisitors’ Manual, 2003, etc.) turns in a contemporary gothic tale delivered in stream-of-consciousness prose, or perhaps better, stream-of-consciousnesses. The ostensible narrator, Paulo Antunes Lima, is a soul both tough and sensitive, not quite sure what to make of his own background, with a father who was one of Lisbon’s preeminent drag queens and whose appetites were catholic and many. “When I was little I would settle down outside there near the horses and the sea so the waves would muffle the voices inside the house and thank God that for an hour or two I could forget about them, my father next to the refrigerator with the dwarf from Snow White on top, turning it round and round without looking at it, my mother asking him in a hiss that carried to the pine trees and made me call to them,” Paulo reflects in a Proustian, underpunctuated moment that is, strange to say, one of the narrative’s more accessible, as voices come and go and events get increasingly ugly. Dad—Carlos or Soraia, depending on hour and mood—dies in an episode both ghastly and politically charged. His lover follows, brought down by poor lifestyle choices. And just about everyone else who comes into contact with Lisbon’s uncharted side, with its victims and victimizers, suffers or doles out pain, violence and bullying (“Doesn’t anybody love you, faggot?”). There is little joy in these pages, but plenty of redemption. Reader be warned, however—this most literary of novels requires a great deal of work to suss out the outlines of a story, for if Antunes seems bent on turning in a homegrown version of Joyce, it is the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, and of Faulkner, the Faulkner of As I Lay Dying.

Strictly for those who like experimental fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-32948-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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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