What could be more venerable, time-encrusted, and useful to a popular novelist like Plain (The Carousel, 1995, etc.) than a drama about a destructive diddling with the Seventh Commandment? Here we have the Noble Wife, mother of three Marvelous Children, and the Errant Husband, bent on adultery, heeding a call to the wild side. If her guardian angel had been on the job in 1973 when Margaret was being fitted for her wedding gown, wondering why fiancÇ Adam had been so distant lately (``If Adam ever leaves me. . . I shall die''), she would have encouraged Margaret to continue her medical studies, cancel the dress, and send Adam packing. But marriage ensued, and now, in 1988, the Adam Cranes have three nice kids. Margaret teaches school. And Adam (in computers) is about to be whistled to heel by Randi, the siren he was having an affair with while Margaret was preparing for their wedding. Randi, long absent, has moved into town. In spite of her rejection of him years before (for a live-in with more money), Adam is once again drawn to Randi and her ``magic flesh.'' When he touches her ``a thrill of peril shook through him. . . He needed this woman.'' The truth dawns slowly on Margaret and her brood. Standing by, meanwhile, are kind friends and one aging suitor, but in the wake of the marriage's collapse she is faced with having to sell the family house and even give up the family dog. Love and doubt turn to righteous rage, and the divorce proceedings are begun, via a likable (unmarried) lawyer. Margaret, having regrouped, is recouping. But what of Adam? Will he get his? You bet. The message couldn't be Plain-er—woe to promise-breakers—and the characters couldn't be broader. Color Margaret virtuous gold, Randi (a moniker on target) a flaming red, and Adam, lizard green. A heavy clunker that Plain manages to move along. Not her best. (Literary Guild main selection; author tour)

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-31110-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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