A patchy, sensationalist tale that seems primarily invested in unsettling its readers.

THE MISBIRTH

A coming-of-age novel about a young man’s tragic family ties.

After 16-year-old Chester White got a girl named Shirley pregnant, he dropped out of high school to support his new family. Now 27, he hates his wife and is unsatisfied with his career as a jukebox and pool-table vendor. Shirley is unsettled by her hostile husband, but she finds some solace in raising their 11-year-old daughter, Patricia. One night, after Chester hears that Shirley publicly insulted him, he rapes Patricia in a drunken rage; the girl doesn’t tell her mother about the incident, but seven months later, she’s too sick to go to school. A blood test at the doctor’s office informs Shirley of the unthinkable: Her child is pregnant. She secures a late-term abortion for Patricia, but the doctor keeps Shirley out of the room when he performs his procedure. While Patricia is unconscious, the aging, childless doctor secretly induces labor; he then takes the baby home to raise and lies to Shirley about the infant’s fate. It’s a truly memorable setup for a novel. However, these initial details pass quickly; the bulk of the book is dedicated to the story of Patricia’s secret child, Logan. It chronicles his various trials and triumphs until he enters an elite boarding school at age 16 and meets his personal mentor—an attractive, older teacher named Patricia. Like all Oedipal stories, Moffatt’s (Beltway Justice, 2013) relies heavily on dramatic irony and a sense of destiny winding to a messy, inevitable conclusion. Logan is an intriguing protagonist who’s kind and loyal and has a strong sense of justice, and his occasional moments of violence and petty criminality will force the reader to question how much of Logan’s nature he inherited from his evil father. However, the author blunts this positive element with strangely truncated, staccato paragraphs (many are only a sentence long); redundancies (“Jack Reed started to hyperventilate anxiety”); rushed character development; and massive plot contrivances.

A patchy, sensationalist tale that seems primarily invested in unsettling its readers.

Pub Date: March 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59630-103-0

Page Count: 398

Publisher: BeachHouse Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2018

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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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