HOPE MILLS

A first novel by storywriter Pierce (When Things Get Back to Normal, 1987) travels the same Carolinian terrain as the much more elegant work of Kaye Gibbons; thematically, it bears a lot in common with Robert Clark's novel, In the Deep Midwinter (1996), which also culminates in an illegal abortion during the Eisenhower years. By comparison, though, Pierce's relentlessly drab fiction drags. Until the startlingly upbeat conclusion, the author paints a rather depressing portrait of Hope Mills, N.C., as a class- stratified, oppressive mill town, with little room for social mobility, an innate prejudice toward blacks and foreigners, and a patriarchal attitude concerning women. The double standard figures prominently in the story, with horny men constantly on the prowl, and girls doomed to succumb to their blandishments. Tollie Ramsey, 15 and confused, hopes to escape the dead-end of ``mill rat'' life, but everything seems stacked against her. She discovers her illegitimacy; she gets knocked up by a Puerto Rican soldier from the local base; her stepfather becomes an alcoholic; and her mother is apparently determined to kill herself. Janice Ramsey, herself a woman who once dreamed of better things, not only settled for the first man who would be a daddy to her little girl, but she escaped Milltown only to return after her infant son died of crib death. Tollie's simple dreams of ``home-cooked food [and] an easy home life'' contrast with those of her best friend, Lily Jones, a sassy girl who hopes that by sleeping with a local d.j. she might eventually conquer Hollywood. Tollie finally seeks out the local voodoo-abortionist, an exceedingly wise black man who serves as her advisor and confessor. Perhaps, Tollie muses, life was just about ``plain old sin and redemption.'' Though Pierce isn't quite sure. It's hard not to think of Gibbons's suggestive, economic style and her subtle feminism when slogging through Pierce's relatively artless complaints against small-town life in another era.

Pub Date: April 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-916366-82-0

Page Count: 311

Publisher: Pushcart

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 39

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more