Hits close to home but misses.



Swannson’s (Crash Gordon and the Revelations from Big Sur, 2014, etc.) latest sci-fi takes place in a familiar near future in which conspiracy theories are “conspiracy facts.”

Sabina Hrafnsson is a 39-year-old “iAesthetician,” essentially a digital PR and image-control guru. As an iAesthetician, she works to repair the public opinions about rich and powerful men whose proclivities have come to light in information made available in post–National Security Agency–leak America. The power of the iAesthetician is such that, through clever branding, one iAesthetician managed to rebound Anthony Weiner’s political career, landing him the role of New York City mayor. Sabina’s chance at professional repute comes when a strange new client offers her a cryptic proposal backed by an anonymous millionaire. As it turns out, she’s granted an opportunity to contribute to a small morally motivated campaign to expose the “conspiracy facts” and ultimately set in motion a movement to correct pervasive government corruption. The story is set in New York with real-life staples like Beauty Bar and frequent celebrity name-dropping, making it somewhat difficult to decipher what’s fact and what’s fiction, which enhances the eeriness of the sci-fi plot. The narrative describes Sabina in a male-gaze kind of way: “Scandinavian genes had blessed her with a heart-shaped face, well-defined cheekbones, a perfect Barbie nose, and a thick mane of toffee-blonde hair that she usually kept in a silky side-braid resting on her left breast, where she tended to flick at it whenever she felt angry or tense.” Still, with her frequent casual references to David Lynch and Nick Cave, Sabina is apparently more than “a high-strung slut wearing see-through yoga pants from Lululemon,” as one friend tells her. Though the storyline cleverly builds on very real concerns about NSA spying and shockingly corrupt politicians, its cheesy action scenes, tawdry sexual references, and one-note characters diminish the impact of what could be a riveting tale.

Hits close to home but misses.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0979910586

Page Count: 192


Review Posted Online: June 10, 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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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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