An admirable stab at narrative innovation within the short story form.

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Viva Vivaldi: A Novella

Four short stories display a range of subjects and techniques that push the conventional limits of fiction. 

In Clay’s debut collection, a cuckolded man fantasizes about his rival’s demise; a World War II pilot records his experiences fighting the Luftwaffe; a mentally ill man navigates the world the best he can; and a man observes an acquaintance demonstrate on a sidewalk populated by buskers the innate brutality of the human race. Although the stories are not connected (besides by their sections, named for the four seasons of the year), Clay’s voice—and his ability to adapt tone, voice, and style to his subjects—threads them together. The first, “Dread in Madrid” (in the “Fall” section), is the most experimental. Lyrical, associative, and nonlinear, it weaves and snags on bits of musical language and dreamlike images: “Here he is again, but not for a loss or a gain; only pain—blocking oxygen to the brain like a mad drab bard dam. I succumbed to the sin of absinthe, amber ambrosia also, to revel in the liberation of libations. Candor: can opener can open Pandora’s door. Es la hora. We discourse. Stay the course.” As an investigation of one man’s feelings toward the friends who betrayed him, this semi–stream-of-consciousness style fits the subject; although readers may find this introduction to Clay’s collection a bit formidable, their perseverance will be rewarded with more accesible prose in the next few stories. The “Winter” entry’s “Pistol Pete” captures the cadences and observations of a young man contemplating life and death and what it means to fight for one’s country: “Slam the stick forward and out-dive ’em; the ’stang can out-dive ’em all. But you can’t out-dive death.” It’s the most straightforward tale in this collection; the others rely upon subtle shifts in perspective and narrative disruption to achieve their effects. This entertaining, if not ultimately groundbreaking, collection provides readers with a range of fiction’s possibilities.

An admirable stab at narrative innovation within the short story form.

Pub Date: April 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5077-1200-9

Page Count: 92

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 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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