LARRY'S PARTY

A meticulous coming-of-(middle)-age novel by Pulitzer Prize- winner Shields (The Stone Diaries, 1993, etc.), who seems to have mastered the art of understatement without falling into the bottomless pit of obscurity. Larry Weller, the son of English immigrants, is brought to Winnipeg while still in his mother's womb. He grows up to become a floral arranger and landscape gardener. As the story opens in 1977, Larry is 26, living at home and dating Dorrie, whom he eventually marries. The book progresses episodically across the next 20 years, each chapter self-contained enough to work as an independent story but connected to the ones that precede and follow it by the narrative of Larry's life, which runs through them like the string holding together a necklace of pearls. Thus, while the focus of each chapter is minuscule—a tweed jacket picked up by mistake in a restaurant, for example, or a trip to the airport to meet a small child—the cumulative effect is one of exceptional clarity and depth of emotion, since the larger environment that surrounds ordinary daily routines becomes better defined and more obvious as the story progresses. The unhappy circumstances that led to the Wellers' emigration, the failure of Larry's marriage to Dorrie, the trials of his second marriage, and the development of his career as a landscaper are all described through flashback. Each part is carefully related to the central metaphor of the garden mazes that Larry becomes expert at designing. The climactic chapter, in which the characters of Larry's labyrinthine and exceedingly complicated life come together at a party, is a blatantly contrived device—but successful in spite of its transparency. Very fine and real: Shields writes with the rare self- assurance of one who from the first knows where her characters are going and what will become of them once they arrive, and—rarer still—manages not to bend them out of shape along the way. (Book- of-the-Month Club selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-670-87392-6

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1997

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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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