THE FOUR-GATED CITY

This is the fifth and last installment of Doris Lessing's Bildungsroman—Children of Violence—which began with Martha Quest, published in England in 1952. Twice as voluminous (more than 600 pages) and much more overwhelming than any novel in the series, it will reveal changes in Miss Lessing, Martha, and the world which now outdistances our time and crosses into the next century after The Catastrophe. When last seen before leaving Africa, Martha was a combative young woman with a strong masculine mind and female instinct—the latter only apparent here at the very outset since sexuality becomes a very ancillary concern. So too for the most part do the political events and ideas and stances (Communism) with which Martha was involved. Now as the book opens in London, she is totally unaffiliated, wanting no liens and having no belongings beyond a suitcase. Temporarily she goes to live with Mark Coldridge, whose wife is in a mental hospital, and help him with his writing and his messy, muddled household which expands continuously (relatives, children of relatives, mental patients, etc.) Lynda, Mark's wife, comes back from the hospital to live in the converted basement with another disturbed woman and hold seances. Martha herself has one period of dangerous instability when threatened with the visit-visitation of her own mother. As time goes on, she identifies more and more with Lynda and the failure of drugs, psychiatrists, shock treatment—a failure which is a lack of awareness of some sort of inner life unknown to science. Miss Lessing, always a protester, seems to be inveighing once again against entrapment—whether political or social or psychiatric, opting for freedom which ultimately she and Lynda (with their special extrasensory powers) find at the close on a nameless island. Certainly much less of a direct documentary than the earlier books, at times ambiguous and confusing. But it does have the self-propelled continuity of The Golden Notebook, a kind of flaying, furious, obsessive momentum which should assure much of the same audience.

Pub Date: May 16, 1969

ISBN: 0060976675

Page Count: 674

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1969

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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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