Swados (The Four of Us, 1991) seems to have intended some sort of deep subtext in this puzzling novel, but it is too carefully buried. Rikki Nelson (yes, named after the other one) is nine years old. Her prostitute mother (who sometimes ``lent'' her to customers) has disappeared, and Rikki is living with a man who might be her biological father and who has theatrical aspirations: ``He said he wanted to direct long plays by a man named Eugene O'Neill.'' Although Rikki doesn't speak, he manages to find her advertising work as a model. Then her big break arrives, and she is taken in by Sasha Volotny, a famed experimental director. He begins, with his troupe, to develop a show called ``The Myth Man,'' which one participant describes as ``a metaphysical follies...Ed Sullivan for snobs.'' Rikki is entrusted to the care of Sasha's brother, Charles, a former drag queen. There are other quirky hangers-on, including a Yale Drama School graduate writing an article on the group for The Village Voice. Sasha (nÇ Stephen Solomon) is supposed to be a charismatic leader, but he just seems like a pretentious taskmaster. His own brother taunts him by telling him that he sounds like ``a Swami from Long Island.'' Sasha's prattle about mythology and creativity is a guaranteed snooze. When Charles—dressed as Icarus—accidentally lights on fire during a rehearsal, Rikki speaks—and thereafter babbles in strange, disjointed phrases. The group travels on to Paris, and finally Sasha receives a grant to take the company into the Amazon and towards its inevitable crisis and destruction. Swados, a playwright and composer, pokes fun at wealthy arts patrons and makes the adult actors look foolish through Rikki's childlike eyes and clear literary voice. But is she just trying to say that all theater is silly? This has the feel of a parable, but the moral remains a mystery. A traveling show that goes nowhere. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-670-84202-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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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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