GIRL WITH CURIOUS HAIR

Wallace follows his debut novel (The Broom of the System, 1986) with this collection of nine stories and a John Barthian novella. The best of the pieces, often drawn from the media or topical events, are inventive, entertaining, and inspired, while others—including the novella—can be all too glib and mannered. "Little Expressionless Animals" (which received the 1988 John Train Humor Prize from the Paris Review) is a zany, fast-paced romp through la-la land: Julie, a bleached-blonde lesbian with an idiot-savant brother, lives through a three-year winning streak on Jeopardy. Wallace—along with the reader—has a great deal of fun with backstage politics and a media-inspired hysteria that wrecks people. Meanwhile, the title story turns Less Than Zero into parody: a young Republican hangs out with a group of L.A. punks (Gimlet, Big, and Mr. Wonderful) at a Keith Jarrett concert—the tale is tantalizing in its facility with its milieu (here, Wallace's feverish prose finds a fitting subject) and even the expected stylized violence at the end outflanks clich‚ In "My Appearance," an anxious actress narrates the antics surrounding her appearance on The David Letterman Show. While there is a little too much media analysis (Wallace is fatally fixated at times on superficial forms of glamour), there is also some good satire. After those three stories, however, the pickings grow thin: "Lyndon" is a predictable, too facile mock-memoir about LBJ written by an aide and shot through with quotes about the former President, while "Here and There" and "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" (the novella) are jargon-ridden, archly metafictional, and too clever for their own good: the novella, especially, is surprisingly jejune. In all, the work of a prodigious but still developing talent too much impressed with his own gifts and with some current critical theory.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 1989

ISBN: 0393313964

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1989

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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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