Morrall’s first, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker, handles the exploration of loss better than it does the rattle of...

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ASTONISHING SPLASHES OF COLOUR

The travails of a severely depressed young woman after the death of her baby.

See Kitty outside the school gates. Parents are picking up kids. Everything is yellow: for Kitty, yellow equals happiness. (Morrall leans hard on color imagery.) Now see Kitty sneak into the school. We realize her “yellow period” is more like mood indigo, for Kitty has no business here and has to beat a hasty retreat. Three years earlier, her womb had ruptured while she was pregnant with her first child, and she’s still in shock. “The world is made for children,” she thinks, “and without them you’re no one.” The 32-year-old Kitty and her husband James live in adjacent apartments in Birmingham, England. The odd arrangement satisfies Kitty’s need to grieve alone, though it disturbs James, who is loving but tight-lipped, unable to discuss their trauma. So child-husband and child-wife tiptoe around each other—though it’s the novel’s most important relationship and should have gotten more attention. But it competes for the spotlight with Kitty’s family across town: Her father Guy, a mildly bohemian artist, and a whole clump of older brothers, sisters-in-law and nieces. Kitty was raised by her father. Her mother died in a car accident when she was three and Kitty has an aching need to know more about her, but Guy and the brothers won’t talk. Then, surprise! Two dramatic revelations about her past devastate Kitty further and cause her to cross the line into a twilight world of delusions and lawlessness. She steals a baby from the hospital, then dumps it in favor of Megan, a runaway and pyromaniac. The two take an unhappy trip to the seaside before Kitty remembers to call home. A deadly fire at the end leaves Kitty essentially unchanged.

Morrall’s first, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker, handles the exploration of loss better than it does the rattle of family skeletons, but it’s still a drab, one-note affair.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-073445-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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