A loopy, appealing mix of popular culture and thoroughly crazy people.

The Last Projector

Keaton (Pig Iron, 2015, etc.) delivers a free-wheeling novel about a porn director, two obsessive young lovers, and a host of other misfit characters.

Forty-seven-year-old Larry, readers learn early on, has been trying for years to get “anyone with clout to read one of his ‘real’ scripts.” But although he has dreams of making a mainstream film, his days as a director of hard-core pornography are filled with overly tattooed porn stars and sleazy producers. Meanwhile, young Billy and Bully love movies and generally do as they please; they become obsessed with a policeman they dub “Bigbeep” (they “followed him home to get his address, followed him back to work to fight crime or whatever”) and witness a bizarre scene involving a pizza deliveryman and a large metal collar. They soon become infatuated with the idea of making their own collar (with a bomb in it) and delve into the world of cinema, searching for any movie that might have a similar contraption. Along the way, other characters kill dogs based on a secret quota, consider the philosopher Marshall McLuhan during an MRI, and execute a gum-chewing security guard. If this array of fantastical excitement sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Keaton works in a fast and loose style, so readers seeking a straightforward narrative devoid of surprises should steer clear. However, those who are excited by cult-movie references (such as Night of the Hunter), tattoos of all sorts, and a world in which authority figures and those looking to subvert them run amok will find this an inviting read. Although it lacks the more polished psychotic insanity of classics such as Stephen Wright’s Going Native (1994), the novel traffics in a similar world of degenerate modern culture. This world of wild fiction is also rapidly paced and loaded with humor, as when Larry fights a senior citizen and comments, “Damn, old man fights like a puma. A puma in a wheelchair anyway.”

A loopy, appealing mix of popular culture and thoroughly crazy people.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-940885-14-8

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Broken River Books

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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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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