The best moments of this good though certainly dispiriting book are those in which we sense that better things await the...



“We are always playing roles and there is a certain truth to masks”: an absorbing but sobering roman à clef by philosopher/novelist Louis and a sharply pointed coming-of-age tale.

Kenneth Rexroth, the American poet, published a memoir that bore the title An Autobiographical Novel, he said, at the insistence of the lawyers. No one save for Louis, born Eddy Bellegueule in 1992, can say for sure where novel begins and memoir ends here; the book reads like autobiography unadorned except for occasional dark-lyrical moments, as with the anti-Proustian opening sentence: “From my childhood I have no happy memories.” It’s abundantly evident, just a few pages in, why Louis should make such a declaration, for though he lives in la belle France, it’s in the nearly Appalachian countryside of Picardy, where a gay kid such as himself is a playground victim from the get-go. His father, who—shudder—drinks box wine, box after box, is a raging brute descended from other raging brutes, wants nothing more than to toughen up a boy who won't be toughened. Mom is, like a sans-culotte, “torn between absolute submission to power and an enduring sense of revolt.” She smokes like a chimney, aware that it’s no good for her but seemingly unconcerned that her asthmatic son might be suffering. Eddy is smart and obliging, even though “being an obedient student at school was considered girlish,” and nobody out in the sticks can figure him out except to peg him as “Bellegueule, the homo.” Throughout, he grapples with that identity, determined to make himself manly, attempting to convince himself, “Maybe I’m not gay…maybe I’ve just always had a bourgeois body that was trapped in the world of my childhood.” And on the other side of that struggle, self-discovery awaits, patiently….

The best moments of this good though certainly dispiriting book are those in which we sense that better things await the protagonist in a world far beyond his window.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-26665-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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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.


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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