Yearning rather than bemoaning; a poignant and altogether agreeable sequence of tales.

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OVER OUR HEADS UNDER OUR FEET

STORIES

A collection of short stories explores a variety of life choices.

The titular story of Holing’s (Shake City, 2017, etc.) latest compendium sees a man with early-onset dementia immerse himself in the seething vitality of the Serengeti. There develops an uneasy to-and-fro between his knowledge of what awaits him and his memories of married life, both blissful yet incomplete, the upshot being that fear gives way to wonder. This, in essence, is the theme of the collection: 10 tales working together to caution readers to make decisions now that will bring contentment when looked back on later in life. This notion comes to the fore particularly in stories of place, such as “Between Wind and Water” and “Yellow Dog.” In the former, a peripatetic, work-obsessed engineer is posted to Hawaii, where the laid-back lifestyle gives pause to his wind-swept urgency. In the latter, a young woman breaks off her relationship and casts off conventional notions of happiness, forging a new life in vibrant, colorful Mexico. Holing is adroit at hinting at possibilities: nuances of what might or might not happen. These aren’t always resolved—readers expecting twist endings and emotional jolts will be disappointed—but even vignettes such as the forlorn fisherman’s tale “Fish Rap,” the bittersweet carjacking story “The Things You Leave Behind,” and the geologist’s contemplative daydream “When Mountains Melt” deftly add to the overall sense of longing. “Natural Selection,” set in a zoo, pits animal instinct against morality, whereas “Thief in the Night” invokes the cutthroat world of Silicon Valley to suggest that people should stay true to their natures. “Desperados” contrasts modern transience with bucolic ranch life and the capricious wiles of the California Gold Rush. “The Test” examines the desperation and sadness of Chinese adoption. In all these wistful stories, Holing allows room for characterization, often skipping back in time to show aspects of the protagonist’s past. The pacing in most cases is gentle, with the prose an easy mixture of narrative and description. For readers of a particular age who have made and regretted certain decisions in life, Holing’s thoughtful, melancholic writing should sit nicely.

Yearning rather than bemoaning; a poignant and altogether agreeable sequence of tales.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991468-1-1

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Jackdaw Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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