In this elegant comedy edged with tragedy, an old poet's longing for the eponymous recognition, though mocked, is also...



Austrian writer Schnitzler (1862-1931; Desire and Delusion: Three Novellas, 2003, etc.) pokes fun at literary pretensions and ambitions in this short novella nearly lost in the Nazi book burning campaign of 1933 and published in the U.S. for the first time.

Eduard Saxberger, an elderly civil servant in Vienna, finds his poetry "rediscovered" by a group of young literary aspirants. Hailing him as Maestro and praising the single slim volume he published 30 years before, they welcome him to evening meetings at a local cafe. Saxberger, flattered, abandons the bourgeois acquaintances he now feels never really knew him in favor of young poets, a playwright, a frustrated novelist, a critic, and a "tragedienne" who flirts with him. Schnitzler paints a deft, playful, well-informed picture of the Viennese literary scene. Rereading his own work, Saxberger wonders "how the world could have passed so unheedingly over verses such as these." Naturally, the undiscovered geniuses of the Enthusiasm Society are insufficiently appreciated by the public. They hold the other patrons of the cafe in contempt for being successful. As the poet Meier explains, " what we generally call those who sit at different tables from us." The group decides to organize a "recital" in order to showcase their talent, and Saxberger agrees to write a new work for the occasion. His attempt to fulfill the part of the "venerable poet" and achieve recognition gives the book its dramatic tension. The night of the recital unfolds with convincing, and inevitable, melancholy. Each character is prey to his or her own egotism and insecurity. Saxberger imagines an "intoxicating, deafening success." Instead, mingled with the polite applause, he hears a pitying remark that brings tears of enraged hurt to his eyes, which the others misinterpret as proof of an excess of feeling. In the end, Saxberger goes back to his old life with the sense that he is "returning from a short, troublesome journey to a home that he had never loved."

In this elegant comedy edged with tragedy, an old poet's longing for the eponymous recognition, though mocked, is also understood.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68137-084-2

Page Count: 136

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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