Well-characterized, entertaining tale with a resilient heroine whose golden years take an unexpected turn.

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QUEEN LEAR

In Conley’s (Bread and Stones, 1986, etc.) novel, a New York businesswoman confronts embezzlement by her own son.

Trading in diverse commercial real estate holdings and amassing a multimillion-dollar portfolio, Letty Lear has invested years of her life protecting and providing for her three children. She’s nearly 70 when her attorney advises that she incorporate and make her children (and him) the board of directors, thus giving them access to her finances. After her husband left her years ago for a man, Letty worked her way up, becoming a formidable matriarch with an acerbic wit, holding her own in a tough real estate market, and usually getting her way with her kids. Astute Letty is a force to be reckoned with—sharp and sharp-tongued, opinionated, funny, and at times charitable, not necessarily with money. Her oldest child, David, is an activist who’s taken in a Burmese refugee, precocious Tong, raising him as his son. Middle child Kate, recently separated, is a clutter therapist, and the youngest, Luna, is the sweet-natured mother of twins. David is increasingly concerned about poverty and violence in Darfur, as is his mentor, Jonathan Greene, who hopes to provide aid to alleviate a deteriorating situation. Eventually, funds will transfer from the Gates Foundation, but during the delay, people are dying in Darfur. By clandestinely borrowing Letty’s millions, David can provide relief now and postpone dealing with the consequences, which are considerable and not borne entirely by him. The novel shares some elements of Shakespeare’s King Lear, most notably a powerful, aging familial head ceding control of property to heirs, setting all in motion. The result is a touching comedy/drama of family dynamics, finances, business, and legalities. At 12, street-smart Tong is a standout character, more like Letty than her children. A natural leader, he’s disarmingly intelligent, reliable in an emergency, and resistant to David’s efforts to groom him for activism. Although the novel is hardly Shakespearean tragedy, it’s a well-crafted story of rebirth through crisis and finding redemption in unlikely places.

Well-characterized, entertaining tale with a resilient heroine whose golden years take an unexpected turn.

Pub Date: March 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1493651979

Page Count: 224

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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