As this story’s heroine evolves from being merely boring to fundamentally loathsome, so too does her tale.



In her second novel (Glorie, 1998), a New York Times culture critic travels back to the 1920s to tell a story of uptown society and the downtown art scene.

Caroline Stephens is an heiress and socialite, married to a rich but unexciting man. She feels stifled by her privileged existence, and she has nothing but scorn for the “self-important businessmen” and “interchangeable wives” who inhabit her circle. Then she discovers art, and she becomes a collector and patron. When one of the artists she supports, Nick Leone, shows a portrait of her—quite naked and clearly aroused—at a gallery opening, she’s devastated by the scandal. What follows is much less interesting than one might expect. Part of the problem is Caroline herself: It’s not easy to feel much sympathy for a woman with enough power and money to destroy a man for sullying her reputation. And part of the problem is structural. James has chosen to have Caroline tell her story in the form of reminiscence. It’s inevitable that even the most tireless soliloquist will leave things out, but Caroline leaves out too much. She tells a great deal more than she shows. For instance, there are no scenes of Caroline’s education as a connoisseur; instead, there are lists of the painters and sculptors whose work she buys. The New York art world of the ’20s was a fascinating place, but you’d never know it from reading this novel. Of course, some of Caroline’s self-editing is strategic, particularly when it comes to her relationship with Nick. The author makes the question of Nick’s motivation the central mystery. Was it malice—as Caroline assumes—or something else altogether? Unfortunately, the reader has few clues from which to draw any solid conclusions. Instead, James slowly reveals that her protagonist is not just a spoiled, pretentious dilettante, but also a rather cold-hearted fraud. The true scandal here is not a racy painting, but Caroline’s monumental and destructive dishonesty.

As this story’s heroine evolves from being merely boring to fundamentally loathsome, so too does her tale.

Pub Date: March 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-34312-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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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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