IN THE YEAR OF LONG DIVISION

From Redbook's fiction editor, 16 short stories (some of which have appeared in various literary magazines) that coolly explore the human heart in pared-down prose. Most of the tales are set in the Midwest, where the land and the lakes seem as menacing as the relationships within families, marriages, and friendships. Many, including the title story, are about childhood; reflecting today's conventional wisdom, Raffel's children are surrounded by disaster, dysfunction, and despair. In ``We Were Our Age,'' a young girl's friendship with a boy is shadowed by the drowning death of the boy's brother. The narrator of ``The Other R's'' recalls how she, her sister, and their mother became involved with a neighborhood tragedy when a family whose last name also began with R ``had something the matter with their baby.'' In ``Something Is Missing of Yours,'' a young girl caught in the middle of her parent's unhappiness struggles to find a refuge of her own. The most accomplished work is the title story, in which Raffel lets a snowstorm that closes streets and schools become a metaphor for sexual difference as two sisters observe the activities of the boys across the street, who ``were always breaking bones.'' Other notable tales describe a troubled marriage in which a husband bets that his wife will be seduced by a friend (``The Trick''); a confused old woman who goes to visit a doctor at an address a beloved, long-dead friend had once given her (``The Seer''); and two alienated people who head north on a surreal search for a mythical house that offers peace and security (``Nightjars''). The weakest piece in the collection is ``City of Portage,'' a brief, self-consciously metaphorical history of Wisconsin's founding seen through a widow's eyes. Original, clever, and finely wrought, but too minimalist to live. Low-fat lit in need of some nourishment.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-41581-5

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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