KNEELING ON RICE

STORIES

This debut collection of stories involves an array of brash, complex women interacting with one another, their families, and their lovers in strange and novel ways. The strong ``The Skinner Box'' (one of the few stories to employ a male protagonist) leads off the collection: Philip, a professor of Chinese literature, is torn between his ex-wife, a brazen performance artist, and one of his former students, a young Chinese woman afraid to go back to China during the Tiananmen Square student uprising. Denton nicely captures Philip's conflicting emotions, his attraction to each woman, and his uncertainty that finally jells into decision. ``Generations'' concerns a family of women: Obnoxious grandmother Lee, her daughter Nora, and precocious teenage granddaughter Michelle all cope with Nora's dying of breast cancer. As 15-year-old Michelle entertains her mother with dress-up skits from the mother's life, she is forced to confront the ambivalent love between her mother and grandmother. The title story involves two women, intense Catherine and artistic, malleable Judy, widows of the same man, uneasily living together and fearing that their mother-in-law will evict them from their joint farm. The title metaphor is a punishment Judy's mother used on her as a child; she tries it again to see ``if it would still hurt.'' Denton can nail a character with such provocative images: an unemployed woman falling asleep under her couch, a woman spying through a window on her lover exercising, two women hiding from a third under a bed. However, she relies on this skill to do too much work; it cannot strengthen her often oblique plots or keep her characters from being derivative of each other. A mixed bag. Powerful imagery and subtle writing accompanied by incomplete characters and plots make for spare, evocative, but often frustrating stories.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8262-0968-8

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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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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