A finely crafted story about late-in-life regrets.

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THE LONG TABLE DINNER

Frahmann’s (The Devil’s Analyst, 2016, etc.) novel tells the story of several lives intersecting at an elaborate outdoor dinner.

Teddy Massetti, 69, has spent nearly his entire life on his family’s ranch on the central California coast, where he raises beef cattle and abalone. There’s usually few people at the ranch, but that’s about to change with a one-day event called the Long Table Dinner: “a pop-up restaurant for one night only, marked by a long table that would snake through the farm and…a menu specific to the region and that specific purveyor.” The solitary Teddy, who keeps his emotions close to his vest, is highly anxious about the arrival of 200 strangers, even if he did agree to the event last year. For him, it was an excuse to invite his old, semiestranged friends Jessica and Frank back to the ranch. The couple—Teddy’s former babysitter and her boyfriend—were once like surrogate parents to him, but there’s long been tension between them. Other participants include a chef whom Teddy knew as a boy who’s now trying to impress his next-door neighbor and a tech genius to whom Teddy sold half his ranch; this transaction, in turn, destroyed Teddy’s relationship with his sister. There’s also a couple who blame Frank, a general in the first Gulf War, for a tragedy and a young caterer with a mysterious past. Teddy hopes the dinner will be a chance to start anew—but has too much time already been lost? Throughout this novel, Frahmann’s prose is finely attuned to minute details: “There is a string of cursing. Frank figures it has to be the chef, who has no idea how his cursing can skip up the hill with the wind. The sounds break the mood.” Teddy is shown to be a wonderfully complex character who’s alternately infuriating and captivating—which is all the more impressive given how little he actually speaks over the course of the narrative. The novel luxuriates in rarified pleasures—culinary delicacies, expensive wine, and clifftop beauty, purchased at $250 a plate—while also ruminating deeply on the hollowness of life and how easily time can be lost to inaction.

A finely crafted story about late-in-life regrets.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-42994-6

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Loon Town Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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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