PUBLIC LIFE

Another fragmented, sophisticated, terribly solemn novel by Akins (Home Movie; Little Woman)—this one starring Ann Matter, a shell-shocked media consultant whose fatal flaw is her fervent belief in her own media creation. Ann was once a sweet, pretty college student with a passion for film, but she lost her innocent enthusiasm once she became pregnant and agreed under pressure from her lover, David, to have the child. After the birth, Ann hands the baby over to David and flees them both in a desperate, misguided attempt to regain her purity. Undergoing surgery to perfect her appearance, she embarks on a cool, meticulous, comforting advertising career in which the appearance of objects, and the layers of associations she can evoke from their images, count for more than the objects themselves. It's a small step from this to taking a job as media representative for old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy Democratic Texas Governor Henry Anderson during his bid for the White House. Inspired by Anderson's real basic virtue, Ann eagerly grabs onto his best human qualities, exaggerating and enhancing them into a larger-than-life, mass- market image. Her efforts are so successful that by the time Anderson takes Pennsylvania Avenue his image has superseded his political positions, and he and his creator have fallen into a lockstep so in sync that it's difficult to tell which one of them is running the country. The union also proves too threatening for a jealous press secretary and Anderson's rebellious son, who soon conspire to sully Ann's and Anderson's reputations in the press. Despite Ann's struggles, her creation begins to wobble, and her tidy world is sent reeling as both David, reading in the papers of her struggles, and Anderson, panicked at the thought of becoming merely mortal again, take abrupt, violent action.... The power and independent life of the media image are, as always, an intriguing theme—but Akins's pointillistic, humorless style merely skitters across its surface.

Pub Date: May 7, 1993

ISBN: 0-06-016753-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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