SKATING IN THE DARK

Here, Kaplan (Comfort, 1987) offers a collection of interrelated stories (marketed as a novel) that trace the coming of age, marriage, and divorce of a suburbanite. The whole is a little too calculated, likable but lacking in real power, though two or three pieces stand out as more than mere slice-of-life Weltschmerz. Between 1951 and 1990, narrator-protagonist Frank (the point of view varies) likes to break into houses, especially his own. In ``Break-in'' (1959), he says, ``Our life in crime seemed predestined'' before breaking into his parents' house with his friends and getting drunk. In the title story, Frank and Jane, his wife of three years, break into his parents' summer house, where they learn that they ``are increasingly doomed to say things they don't mean.'' The author plays with such before-and-after parallels throughout: in ``Governotou'' (1969), Frank goes to Crete alone, while in ``Tombs'' (1976), he goes with Jena, and a guide serves as a device that dramatizes their estrangement. By the last section, ``Homecoming''—which deals with the aftereffects of divorce—the attentive reader is repaid for too much minutely observed slightness. Frank breaks into the house where he and Jena (now remarried) once lived and telephones her for a sad, anguished conversation. In the powerful ``Stand,'' he returns to his parents' summer house, which has been sold, and has a tense, frightening encounter with some locals. Finally, ``In the Night'' (1990) lets Frank recoup a great deal of earlier wimpiness and self-pity as he talks girlfriend Allie, always on the verge of breakdown, through a crisis, making his life ``more redeemable somehow.'' ``You don't get it, do you?'' the wife asks. ``You don't see how...how sad it all is.'' These stories, one reprinted in the O. Henry Prize Stories 1990, are aptly elegiac—the fictional record of a sterile, childless marriage.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40517-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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