Skillfully imagined, bittersweet portrait of marriage and sacrifice.

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SWEET RUIN

The inner (and outer) life of a grieving suburban mom is thrown into turmoil when she becomes attracted to a delicious young neighbor.

Two years after the tragic loss of her baby son, 35-year-old Elayna Leopold has gotten used to numbly going through the motions of life. A part-time poetry editor married to a mostly absent workaholic lawyer, she has been focusing all her energy on raising her young daughter Hazel. This all changes one early spring day after a chance meeting in her leafy New Jersey neighborhood with neighbor Kevin, an artist in his early 20s. She is instantly as captivated by him as he is by her; the two indulge in a heart-fluttering will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation that reignites her dormant sensuality. While never denying that she still loves her husband Paul, Elayna grows more and more smitten with Kevin, raising questions concerning the nature of marriage, the road not taken and whether the younger man is something of a substitute for the boy she lost. During this steamy season, Elayna’s fashion photographer father Devon takes a renewed interest in his granddaughter, putting Hazel in a fashion show and introducing her to his sophisticated Manhattan world. The two bond quickly, causing Elayna to wonder whether her dad’s worldly ways will negatively impact her sensitive seven-year-old. Her doubts pass quickly, and, in her self-absorbed state, Elayna starts to take more risks, culminating in a selfish decision that has far-reaching consequences for her family. Bravely tackling the complexity of sexual life, Hanauer (The Bitch in the House, 2003, etc.) allows Elayna’s ripe first-person musings to occasionally veer close to parody. But ultimately the reader is left feeling connected to a complicated woman who, after going hungry for too long, decides to taste too much.

Skillfully imagined, bittersweet portrait of marriage and sacrifice.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-7734-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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