Memorable characters and unique historical details illuminate slavery’s complex legacy.

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THE RESISTORS

Wilson’s (The Kidnapped, 2018, etc.) new volume of historical fiction weaves together 24 short stories to create a remarkable, multihued portrait of America.

These are the stories of slavery and the brave black, white, Native American, and multiracial men and women who fought against it. The narrative begins in 1795. Esi and Kofi, two Fante from West Africa, were kidnapped and sent to Virginia to be sold. Esi was Fante royalty; Kofi was known for his bravery in confronting a lion. They were 12 years old. Purchased by a farmer from Daufuskie Island, they remained on his plantation until his death in 1801. Esi and Kofi (who assumed the English name Kenneth) married at 16 and were sold to Nathan Prescott of Culpeper, Virginia, to work on his “Fruits of the Spirit” plantation. They had many children, some of whom were forcibly fathered by Prescott. Kenneth earned small amounts of money on the side as a cobbler and was determined to buy his children’s freedom. Then, help appeared from another source. Quaker abolitionists established an underground railroad and offered sanctuary to those who made their way into free territory. In 1827, Kenneth’s daughter Sarah and two of her brothers were rescued by an “African-Shawnee” named Caesar and brought to live with a Quaker family in Ohio. The stories, narrated in the strong and textured voice of Sarah, span the first half of the 19th century. Here, she poignantly describes her father: “I know that Daddy was always a double-sided man: a Fante warrior dressed in a slave’s rags; dignified while disgraced.” The stories are the product of the author’s imagination, informed by years of research and personal lineage. Wilson, himself a Quaker, identifies Sarah as a “direct ancestor.” Each stand-alone tale conveys a quick snapshot of resistance, whether through overt acts of rescue/escape or the quiet refusal to submit to degradation of the soul. The conversational prose captures the cadence and imagery of the period, including racist slurs, but without contrived dialect.

Memorable characters and unique historical details illuminate slavery’s complex legacy.

Pub Date: April 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947041-36-3

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Running Wild Press

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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