POETRY AND PURGATORY

Poetic visionaries of an apocalyptic turn have William Blake; and neo-beatnik New York junkies have Buddy Giovinazzo (Life Is Hot in Cracktown, 1993), whose firm grasp of the surreal fin-de-siäcle urban patois makes for lively page-flipping in his latest, a sort of underground picaresque murder mystery. Racked by terminal brain cancer, Eddie, Giovinazzo's protagonist, is a collector of hard-luck cases: Whores, addicts, and other losers drifting through a sordid vision of Manhattan are all part of Eddie's borderline world. His sister, Denise, is a dominatrix with money troubles who's hatched a scheme to solve her problems: She'll videotape her wealthy johns in compromising positions and blackmail them. Eddie becomes her cameraman. When Denise is murdered—beaten to a pulp, presumably by one of the guys she was blackmailing—Eddie takes a woozy vow to find her killer. He enlists the aid of his new girlfriend, Kaval, a wayward trust-fund baby with a hair-trigger temper who helps drag Eddie out of his pharmaceutically managed funk. Particularly harrowing is the account of the twisted couple's visit to Kaval's parents in Los Angeles. Eddie is prone to hallucinations that both drive and obscure the plot; particularly visceral are his run-ins with a manipulative dog who seems to serve as a kind of devilish tempter. A few appearances by his pedophile stepfather add a pinch more of nastiness to an already disturbing and grisly tale. Off the deep end for the second half of the book—as well as armed and dangerous—Eddie lets his search for the truth become less and less focused. But when you can read prose like ``The sun beat down like Astroturf on plastic bones, and standing in the corner I saw colors of hunger and longing but all the different colors were black,'' who needs clarity? A relentlessly grim urban pastiche that nonetheless never lets down its central character, whose heart really is in the right place. Weirdly ennobling.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997

ISBN: 1-56025-133-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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