Lyrical, but flaws in plotting and tone make it come out half-baked.

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SUMMER OF GLORIOUS MADNESS

Romancer Yorke (Song of the Seals, 2003, etc.) takes on manic depression.

When Dr. Elizabeth Shreve, a Marin County shrink, is shaken by the end of her 15-year marriage—following her surgeon husband’s affair with his young head nurse—and by their teenaged daughter’s emotional reactions, she gets a call to commit a former patient who has been found wandering, bloody and wild-eyed, in Golden Gate Park. It’s Jack, a charismatic landscape gardener she’d treated after he separated from his wife. He’s in a manic phase and seems to have been in a fight, though no victim is found. Elizabeth stabilizes him with lithium, but he refuses the dosage after his 72-hour commitment. When she puts him into a therapy group, he walks out. (The group members are among the novel’s well-drawn minor characters.) Jack considers himself clairvoyant, sensing not only the feelings of the plants he works with but the thoughts in people around him. Despite her rationalizations, Elizabeth finds his accurate comments on her own private life disconcerting, and before long she’s breaking the professional rules, having dinner with Jack, discussing her private life, finding herself more and more attracted to his manic high, which he ascribes to falling in love. Being with Jack brings back memories of her bipolar mother, who drove off a cliff with her six-month-old daughter when Elizabeth was seven. Part of Jack’s appeal is his genius at landscaping and his gift for working with botanic oddities (not unlike psychiatric oddities). Yorke’s descriptions of manic depression and its treatment are illuminating, but then she shifts from romance to the courtroom drama of Jack’s trial for the attempted murder of his estranged wife’s new boyfriend (the night he was found in the park). Elizabeth takes the stand to argue for his insanity plea, but this summer romance no longer seems so much glorious as ill-advised.

Lyrical, but flaws in plotting and tone make it come out half-baked.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-425-19613-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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