FLIGHT FROM FIFTH AVENUE

Rae's latest, the tale of a lass who breaks free from her gilded mansard, lacks the sense of closeted nastiness that gives Rae's novels (The Ship's Clock, 1993, etc.) their spine. Nonetheless, the author's potpourri prose artfully draws out camphor-potent scandal from some secret alcoves of turn-of-the- century Manhattan mansions. When she reads that her family's Fifth Avenue mansion is to be torn down, Maida Jardine recalls the events leading up to her departure from it on an atmospherically freezing night in February 1911. The youngest of six children, Maida feels oppressed by chilly Mother's stern regimens and social climbing, mysteriously unchecked by kind but distant Father. But then brother Jerome introduces her to the joys of tending little orphans at the Foundling Hospital. Mother, furious to learn of such low company, soon arranges a marriage for Maida to a horrid viscount (narrow face, small eyes, thoroughly ``vulpine''). Maida flees into February's storms after landing a possibly fatal haymaker on the viscount, who was ready to pounce in the night. Her subsequent adventures include work as an agent for the Children's Aid Society, taking orphans to Michigan (snow, awful food, and attempted rape); toil back in Manhattan, incognito, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company (she's there for the Big Fire); and translating from German the lumpen works of a grandfather of dear, Pickwickian Mr. Schilling, who is certain his forebear left a clue to treasure within. Of course, in time the foxy viscount traps Maida; Mother moves in, and there's a parental showdown; Maida and the viscount star in a court trial; and secrets are aired in a paternal letter. Oh, yes, there's True Love too. Rae's narrative meanders on like an idle spillway, with her heroine moved too easily and predictably from point to point. It appears the author decided to rest on her oars this time.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 1995

ISBN: 0-312-11788-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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