SMALL CAUCASIAN WOMAN

STORIES

Palencia (``author of several romance novels'') transforms typical small-town gossip into stories that affectionately limn life in an Appalachian community. As the local librarian-archivist notes, ``The only way to untangle the competing voices [of the past] is to study gossip.'' Gossip, which is ``personal history grounded in place,'' also tells us ``who we are.'' And in the pieces that follow, links between families are discovered, old rumors are revived, and new scandals aired. ``The Best Dressed Man in Dayton'' describes an event of 40 years ago, when young Dreama Forrester ran away to work in Ohio and met Floyd, con man, gambler, and natty dresser. Dreama and Floyd figure in other stories as well, since Dreama belongs to the Forrester family, which, along with the more distinguished Farnsworth family, first settled the town. The Farnsworths, whose shameful secrets are revealed in one of the best stories here, ``Stealing Sugar,'' built the bank, the hotel, and erected on the courthouse lawn a statue commemorating the soldiers of all wars—a statue known locally as ``King Farnsworth.'' ``Small Caucasian Woman'' is the first line of the only personal ad ever to have appeared in the local paper. To ask help in supplying so intimate a need fueled rumors as wild as the one suggesting to the townsfolk that the Mafia was posed to take over the IGA Foodliner. Another contemporary story, ``The Art Business,'' gently satirizes ``the great folk art scare of the eighties'' as Missy Tanner tries to establish the Tanner Museum of Primitive Art and is conned by the wily Bridges family. The last, and most poignant, piece—``The Biggest Nation''—catches up with Dreama, 40 years later, as she spends her days at a local mall reminiscing to passersby. Not earthshaking, but a pleasant if sometimes self-conscious visit down-home on the front porch with the locals.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8262-0906-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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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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