Messud returns (When the World Was Steady, 1995; not reviewed) capably indeed, with an intelligent coming-of-ager about a teenaged girl half-American and half—Algerian-French. Sagesse LaBasse is 16 in 1991, and here she tells what took place in her life in that crucial girlhood year and in the three or so years before it: and in doing so also limns a painful span in French history, from colonial days in Africa through the battle of Algiers—and on to the psychic tolls taken on those who became no longer Algerian and not quite French either. Sagesse’s grandfather fled Algiers before the collapse, having invested already in land on a semi-barren spot on the Riviera. There he relocated his family, built a hotel, and saw it flourish just as he had foreseen, along with the growing tourist industry. He had always been a rigidly domineering man, however, and success only fed his bitterness at “exile,” his increasingly rightist demand for what he thought of as social dignity, decorum, and, above all, civic respect and order. So it is that one night when Sagesse’s friends are using the hotel pool and making a great deal of modern, disrespectful teenage noise, her grandfather—well, he shoots at them. Wounding a girl, he ends up in court, goes to jail for six months—and thus exposes the psychic-emotional crack in the LaBasse family that will break it up for good. When that happens, Sagesse will describe it just as bravely and vividly as she does everything else—her own trials through adolescence; her American mother’s strange and pale varieties of weakness; the probable feelings of her profoundly retarded brother Etienne (and her own for him); her father’s boyhood, maturation, marriage—and finally his utter, wracking, ruinous calamity. A broad canvas, unflinching and clear eye for the truth, and a family tale that never fails to compel and that reverberates universally, as a fine saga should.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-100471-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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