Palliser (The Sensationist, 1991, etc.) has found a new voice- -or rather a dozen of them—in this razzle-dazzle Chinese box of reflexivity. Reading from the top, there's a grimly satisfied Daily Scot obituary for a distinguished scientist; a mini-Decameron in which three passengers on a snowbound train trade tales en route to the mysterious death of one of their number; a reader's report on a fledgling novelist's attempt to mix hospital romance with serial murder; a tale of revolving-door intrigue among an impenetrable French thinker's epigones; two tales of a cuckold's revenge, one fake-Arabian Nights, one back in modern Britain. The real point of Palliser's novel, however, is the convoluted net of cross- references that bind the ten stories together not only in the thematic terms announced by his title (romantic triangles, literary sycophancy, and plagiarism head the list of betrayals), but also in terms of wildly unlikely echoes of character functions, names, and secrets. For instance, the three storytellers of Chapter 2 turn up in preposterous new roles in Chapter 7, and the scientist memorialized in the opening pages can't rest in peace until he's tied into an over-the-top murder yarn at the very end. Along the way, Palliser deftly parodies deconstructionist criticism, the middlebrow style of Jeffrey Archer, three different pulp genres, perhaps the most obtuse serial killer's diary in fiction, countless historical takes on Jack the Ripper—and, inevitably, his own professional anxieties, as dramatized by (among others) Cyril Pattison, the fictional author of the fictional novels, Quintessence and The Sensation Seeker (see Palliser's Quincunx, as well as The Sensationist). A good time is had by all, even if the plots, individually and collectively, never snap shut as satisfyingly as you'd like or expect. Palliser has produced a lark, a romp, an overripe encyclopedia of nonsense bound to appeal to the sort of literary gameplayers who'll find their own likenesses prominently displayed herein.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-36959-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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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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