IF THIS WORLD WERE MINE

A journal-writing group helps four black college friends see each other through major and minor crises, in Harris's fourth outing (And This Too Shall Pass, 1996, etc.) Yolanda, Riley, Dwight, and Leland, all alumni of the Hampton Institute, gather regularly to read their journal entries and ask each other questions like ``What are you grateful for?'' Yolanda, a consultant who's extricated herself from a so-so marriage, has a take-charge attitude toward the many men who pursue her. Self-deluding Riley has an incredibly overbearing mother, a husband who's always away on business, and aspirations to be a poet and singer; her friends are gently discouraging, so she turns to the Internet for support. Dwight, a computer engineer, finds that his colleagues' racism and his exaggerated hostility toward whites cause problems at work. Leland, a gay therapist and Yolanda's best friend, is the gentle heart of the group; his chicken-wingmagnate uncle, also gay, dispenses homespun wisdom in abundance. Over the course of the story, the characters undergo cataclysms of varying intensity. Riley strikes up an E-mail relationship with a stranger who signs himself ``Lonelyboy''; he turns out, all too unsurprisingly, to be her own estranged husband. Dwight quits his job and contemplates going to work for a black-owned computer company in Washington. Yolanda, meanwhile, meets John Basil Henderson, an ex-football player with a high-intensity courtship style (limos, massages, surprise trips to New Orleans). But John is concealing a past that includes bisexuality and an episode of blackmail; Leland, who's learned from a client that John isn't all he seems to be, must wrestle with the ethical question of whether to tell Yolanda what he knows. What starts off as an amiable enough soap opera quickly becomes mired in byzantine subplots and friends-stick-by-each-other clichÇs. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-48655-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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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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