If 300-plus pages of beautiful boys, speed freaks in the Castro, girlie-girl orgies, and Allen Ginsberg’s dancing boyfriend...

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PILLS, THRILLS, CHILLS, AND HEARTACHE

ADVENTURES IN THE FIRST PERSON

“Sex, Drugs and Kink in the Bay Area”: an alternate title for this largely unexceptional anthology.

All 40 pieces are told in first person, though this is hardly a distinguishing feature. A far more apparent link uniting the collection’s content and context is sex; the majority of the tales focus on it, and the majority of it is queer. The compendium successfully creates a wonderfully rich portrait of queer subculture, but few of the individual stories are particularly grand examples of the short form. There are exceptions: Cara Bruce’s “Love Boat and Lingerie” offers a comic and achingly realistic account of teenage mischief, as three nice suburban girls ditch class, smoke some PCP, and attempt to steal high-end bras from the local Macy’s. In “E.I.P. BID” (Early Intervention Program Twice a Day), by Leo Blackwater, a doctor tells a man with HIV to go off his meds for a week in the hopes of curing his fatigue. This simple act revitalizes him and makes him forget about dying (“I do not rush places”) until the week is up and he resumes his pills. Kathe Izzo’s “The Black Hand” is a brief but powerful account of a wife and mother who leaves her husband for a woman, then finds herself in court with a restraining order against her from her new lover. One of the best tales is editor Tea’s “Paris: A Lie,” about a confusing morning-after involving two girls in a bathroom, missing underwear, and a regrettable promise to sell some much cherished Xanax. It has what a lot here lacks: distinctive prose and a wise sensibility on some rather raunchy topics.

If 300-plus pages of beautiful boys, speed freaks in the Castro, girlie-girl orgies, and Allen Ginsberg’s dancing boyfriend sounds like your kind of ride, then get on—but expect some bumps.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-55583-753-0

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Alyson

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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