DESERT BLUES

First fiction that's like the desert in which it's set: flat and stretching for miles without hint of change or oasis. Harold is a flatulent, overweight 16-year-old whose parents die in a car wreck on the Pasadena Freeway. He goes to live in boring Palm Springs with his Aunt Enid, who is too buxom, too painted, and too brassy for his delicate adolescent sensibilities. But she's his only relative—that is, until her deserter father, Harold's long-lost, alcoholic grandfather, Abe, arrives on Enid's doorstep. The crotchety old man's kidneys are failing; he needs a place to die. These travails are complicated by the fact that Enid is a kept woman, and her lover, Archie, doesn't like relatives crowding their nest. All parties collide at Enid's in a comic snarl in which the living terms are hashed out once and for all. Will Archie throw Enid & Co. out? Will Enid throw Abe out? Will Enid relocate Harold? Who cares? The problem here is that the story's central conflict is a tempest in a teapot. The characters are too quirkily affable to do much damage to one another, and we know that Enid and Harold will survive even if they are curbside with only $700 because she's a trouper and he's young and resilient. The author avoids conflict at all costs—Harold narrowly averts being beat up, Enid doesn't plotz that he got drunk, potential romances (for Enid and Harold) dissipate without investigation, and crises are faced with an oy-gevalt, this-is-my-life sense of humor. Interest in some decent comic moments wanes with the realization that the plot is gratuitous, the jokes are central. Everything in this novel is too easy—including the laughs and the leaving of it at the end.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-877946-49-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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?

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

Did you like this book?

more