FEATHER CROWNS

Christie and James Wheeler, tobacco farmers in turn-of-the- century Hopewell, Kentucky, and already parents of three, become the most illustrious people of their time and place when Christie gives birth to quintuplets. Her pregnancy was marked by a misdiagnosis of fibroids—and after the birth Christie wonders whether her so liking sex with her husband (as well as being once erotically charged by a preacher's millennial verve) could have contributed to so freakish an issue. But whatever their cause, the five babies demand heroic attention: Christie's milk is nowhere near adequate; a black nursemaid is called in. Also arriving are the curious—from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago. But in a matter of months the babies all die—``wooled to death,'' Christie thinks, from being overhandled by strangers; killed by Negro milk, James prefers to think. In any case, life after the babies grows hard economically as well as sentimentally; when a crop goes bad, Christie and James allow themselves to be suckered into going on a lecture tour (with the five tiny embalmed bodies in a glass case) that degenerates into a carny sideshow and worse. Shaking off their nightmare, the Wheelers finally allow a scientific institute to keep the babies' bodies for research; and the book ends with Christie in old age paying a visit to the Dionne quints. Mason (Love Life, etc.) has a wonderful story here and knows it, but has chosen to tell it so slowly, at such deliberate pace, that only the babies' deaths (and Christie's frantic impotence to stop the dying)—plus some of the freak-show hucksterism on the post-death tour—come over as vivid enough to be indelible. Mason's usually fine dialogue is muffled by historical distance, and the book simply is too long to maintain Christie's painful awe at life's oddness. The theme of exploitation rises foremost, but it's a late one the novel accedes to almost halfheartedly—sociology more cut and dried than the fearful psychology of Christie's grief. (First printing of 60,000)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-016780-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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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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