A jolting tour through the lower depths of the political machine so often shrouded in darkness and rhetoric.



Slacker speechwriter can’t remember when he last had an uncynical thought—then falls in love.

Ben Bergin is the worst kind of person you’d want working on a political campaign, or the best, and one of the merits of former speechwriter Mizner’s efforts here is that it’s difficult to tell which you’re supposed to think. A knock-around writer of sorts in his late 20s, Bergin affects a studied cynicism that he well knows is just a mask over growing despair: “It’s a story of sideline standing, of cleverly criticizing . . . of sleeping in and sleeping off, of laughing at myself and drinking to numb.” He’s a junior speechwriter for the campaign of Arnie Schecter, a New York congressman from Brooklyn who’s up for reelection—and, not surprisingly, the burned-out Bergin couldn’t really give a toss. He floats into the office after sleeping off the one he tied on the night before, and his drinking is now creeping into the daytime. He’s rudderless and in serious danger of becoming a walking casualty like Schecter’s campaign manager Danny, a horrid sight of middle-aged collapse, tamping down his desperation with food and cocaine. Just about all Bergin has to hang on to at this point is his coworker Calliopie Berkowitz, a shameless do-gooder who organizes the volunteers and flirts with Bergin during their regular rooftop smoke breaks. Not surprisingly, the self-destructive Bergin manages to snuff out whatever flame there might have been between him and Callie, and he spirals further into a sort of Gen-X self-immolation before finally being thrown a lifeline. First-novelist Mizner relates his scabrous tale with a welcome lack of hypocrisy, meaning that Bergin is for the most part pretty irredeemably awful, something no amount of self-awareness can erase: it’s this honesty that gives the novel its potent kick.

A jolting tour through the lower depths of the political machine so often shrouded in darkness and rhetoric.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2004

ISBN: 1-56947-386-2

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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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.


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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