Like Christine’s family, these stories suffer from excessive gentility and emotional reticence.

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TROPICAL FISH

TALES FROM ENTEBBE

Baingana’s linked stories parse the destinies of three sisters in post–Idi Amin Uganda.

This debut collection, about a middle-class family’s decline, mirrors the dislocation wrought by an unstable economy after the collapse of Idi Amin’s chaotic regime. In “Green Stones,” youngest sister Christine investigates her parents’ boudoir, unearthing clues to her father’s alcoholism and infidelity, and her mother’s self-deception. “Hunger” is the preoccupation of sister Patti, sent to Gayaza, a government boarding school whose only well-nourished students are those whose parents can afford to supplement the starvation rations impoverished Patti must subsist on. “First Kiss,” the weakest story, ostensibly about Christine’s first date, meanders into reminiscences about her grade school, site of the date, where Christine and readers are stood up. Gayaza, attended by sister Rosa, is the setting for “Passion.” After an exposition-laden start, Rosa conducts a juju experiment on a male teacher in mid-discussion about King Lear, and the result is an unsettling epiphany for both. “Thank You Note” is Rosa’s harrowing letter to a lover who has given her AIDS. The trajectory of contagion among fun-loving university students ends in the horror of seeing the disease lay waste to her former schoolmates and herself. In the title story, Christine has a wan affair with a wealthy white tropical-fish exporter who’s predictably blasé about her abortion. By the pat, overdetermined end, she’s squeezed with her countrywomen into a bus, heading into “[t]he glaring sun.” “Lost in Los Angeles” finds Christine in that city, looking back on her Ugandan home through the rueful eyes of an emigrant taken in by shopping and California New Agey–ness. In “Questions of Home,” Christine returns to Entebbe, where she declares an uneasy truce with her Africanness. Christine gets the lion’s share of the attention here; the voices of her three siblings sound identical.

Like Christine’s family, these stories suffer from excessive gentility and emotional reticence.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-7679-2510-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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