A smart, layered satire for historians and cultural critics alike.

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1916

THE BLOG

Humor comes together in a sometimes-dark, often playful, and ultimately humanist satire of technology, media, and politics past and present in this fascinating debut novel by Schneider, a journalist and political commentator.

The story opens as the author clears out his grandfather’s attic. But the unenviable chore yields something unexpected: his great-grandfather’s writing and a strange, typewriterlike device that seems to have been part of a miraculous turn-of-the-century internet. The writings make up the rest of the novel as the great-grandfather, Sebastian Schneider, navigates his menial career as a typist for the Milwaukee Post in 1916. When Sebastian receives the device—called a Finger-Phone—from a colleague, he begins blogging his thoughts and feelings on the matters of the day, from women’s suffrage to the specter of Prohibition. Throughout, the text delivers plenty of laughs, portraying historical events without the perspective of hindsight and understanding and viewing Sebastian’s 20th-century ideas through 21st-century technology. His misadventures range from trying to buy firewood through Tinder to click-bait articles and spam messages promising male enhancement. These jokes start to feel redundant after a while, but the novel’s effective, deadpan prose is still chuckleworthy, and Sebastian’s haplessness allows for plenty of situation comedy as well, like when he ends up drunk at a teetotaler rally. He uses his blog as an outlet to voice his opinions and share his misadventures, but as time goes on, he feels increasingly alone and disconnected. This idea isn’t particularly novel, but the story ultimately goes deeper and addresses why technology seems to yield these negative feelings. Indeed, while the reader laughs at Sebastian’s slip-ups and misunderstandings, the novel also indicts his sexism, self-certainty, and tendency to speak from ignorance. And at the same time, while the story mocks plenty of the more absurd aspects of the digital age, it also shows how Sebastian gains a genuine friendship through his online interactions—a relationship his own prejudices might have kept him from in the real world. In this way, the reader comes away with the sense that this is not a baldfaced indictment of technology but a nuanced treatment on the ways in which we abuse it.

A smart, layered satire for historians and cultural critics alike.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-04447-6

Page Count: 271

Publisher: Pelham Press, LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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