A DIFFERENT SEA

From acclaimed Italian writer Magris (Inferences from a Sabre, 1991, etc.), one of those slender European novels that earnestly explore the meaning of life in exquisitely calibrated prose. Much is expected of young Enrico by his two great friends, Nino and Carlo. All three young men were born in the late 19th century and raised in what was then part of the Austrian Empire and later, after two world wars, successively under Italian and Yugoslavian Communist rule. These historical changes, with their inevitable disruptions and dislocations, form the background for Enrico's life story. The trio meet to discuss philosophy, read, and derive ``enormous pleasure from their shared view of the world.'' For Carlo, a philosopher, Enrico is ``the friend who would fill all space and embody the world I was searching for.'' Nino also shares these high opinions, opinions confirmed by Enrico's decision to avoid military service by sailing to Patagonia. ``You know how to exist entirely in the present Rico, they had said to him as he left. You do not devalue your life through fear of losing it.'' But in Patagonia, Enrico, who had once written to Tolstoy and still reads Greek, is soon aware of his inadequacies. Herding sheep in the desert and living alone in a rough hut do not promote the exalted authentic life he'd expected. Existence becomes a matter of mere survival, and this retreat, first from his friends' expectations, and later from relationships with women, continues on his return home. He teaches school, then moves to an island. Here he endures the German invasion, is arrested and beaten up by the new Communist rulers, and though he tentatively tries to connect with others and find some meaning, he never really lives the authentic life his friends were so sure was his. A poignant portrait of failure and undaunted resilience to continue despite it.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1995

ISBN: 0-00-271339-X

Page Count: 108

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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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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