END OF THE EMPIRE

Jewel Mzar and Dante love each other. But Virgil Penhaligan, the town madperson, and Donnie James Champlin, a local ne'er-do- well, are also in love with Jewel. Will one of the latter avenge himself on one of the women for the illicit love they share? Such is the suspense that threads through this uneasy, somewhat understuffed second novel by Ohio (The Finer Grain, 1988—not reviewed). In the small town of Cascade, Oregon, the sole attraction is the crumbling art deco Empire Movie Theater, which shows only film noir movies. Here, Jewel, a cold young raven-haired beauty, runs the popcorn concession; Donnie Champlin is the projectionist; and Virgil Penhaligan occupies himself as a sort of deranged Christian janitor. When the stranger Dante rides into town on her Harley, she, too, is given a job at the Empire. And so the bleak, empty Empire is the place where Dante and Jewel—who, it transpires, have met and loved before—are discovered in flagrante delicto by Virgil, who has drilled a hole in the broom closet wall the better to watch Jewel at her ablutions in the ladies' room. Later, Donnie, a frustrated painter, also takes a peek. When finally that night both men follow Jewel to her mobile home on the dark edge of town, themselves trailed by Dante, who is on the verge of fleeing from her fearful passion for her lover—well, Jewel is saved, but the Empire is set aflame by the sin-obsessed Virgil, and Dante, watching the flames, is jolted into accepting Jewel's love—the first time she's been able to love since childhood. The setting is minimal, the drama is stark, and the jittery narrative consists of alternating streams-of-consciousness, such as this one from Dante: ``Fire. Love. What am I missing then? The ability to believe, not only in my own survival but the survival of someone else—what is both me and not me. This fire. This love.'' This is hard going.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-312-09282-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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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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