Evan is a dull protagonist, his decisions left unilluminated.

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THE INHABITED WORLD

A ghost recalls his life, which culminated in suicide, in this low-key novel from Long (The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux, 2000, etc.).

It’s 2002, ten years since narrator Evan Molloy shot himself at age 42, and only now are all his memories becoming clear. Evan had a house in Seattle; as a ghost, he is confined to the house and yard. He cannot manifest himself to the living, or intervene on their behalf, though he would like to help the current occupant, a single woman having difficulty ending an affair with a demanding married man (her story runs parallel with Evan’s). His feebleness in death mirrors the feebleness of his life, which he takes us through, ploddingly. He always lived in the Seattle area and had an okay childhood, though his mother split for Africa. His first job was as a business consultant. His first love, Claudia, became his wife; they were wildly happy at first, but after three years, Evan is unfaithful to her, with Frannie, a coworker. Why? He can’t explain it. Sex must have been part of the reason, but Long won’t write sex, which only matters here because it plays such a central role. Evan ends his affair (again, we don’t know why) at the exact moment Claudia learns of it. She leaves him. More than a decade later, they re-marry, Claudia bringing with her Janey, the difficult child of her failed second marriage. Once again, a happy marriage falls apart, and it’s all Evan’s fault. He gets angry for no reason. Claudia and Janey move out; his boss gives him a leave of absence. Evan’s optional suicide (“mine was a surmountable despair”) has no trigger; it is not artistically satisfying. How very different from a classic suicide novel such as O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra, where the drama flows from the gathering inevitability of the act. If Evan had taken the right meds (he’d been on antidepressants), we might have had a happy ending.

Evan is a dull protagonist, his decisions left unilluminated.

Pub Date: July 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-54335-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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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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