MORE SHAPES THAN ONE

Southern poet and novelist Chappell offers 13 stories that use conventions of genre writing to metaphysical and metaphorical ends: these are marvelous renditions—sometimes exuberant, sometimes meditative, arcane or antic. A number of the stories play fictional riffs on the biographies of well-known historical figures. ``Weird Tales,'' for instance, recounts four meetings between doomed poet Hart Crane and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. While doing psychologically realistic justice to Crane's possible delirium before he committed suicide by jumping ship, the piece posits a new mythology presaged by the meetings—``the reawakening of Dzhaimbu and the other worse gods, under whose charnel dominion we now suffer and despair.'' In ``Linnaeus Forgets,'' set in 1758, the famous botanist receives a box with a strange plant from a distant island, and the plant's otherworldy transformations become a metaphor for the attainment of serenity and a kind of wisdom. Likewise, in ``The Snow That is Nothing in the Triangle,'' Fuerbach, once ``The Pope of the Theorems,'' now theorizes Ö la Wallace Stevens, talking a metaphorical language that his students interpret as senility. In other stories, such as ``Mankind Journeys Through Forests of Symbols,'' the weirdness becomes less metaphysical and more antic: Balsam, a North Carolina sheriff, and Dr. Litmouse, a scientist, team up to dissolve a dream (500 yards wide, two stories tall) that is blocking Highway 51; and in ``The Somewhere Doors,'' an obscure sci-fi writer in North Carolina meets a woman paid ``to deliver messages to people they think are important to their way of looking at things.'' ``After revelation, what then?'' one story asks. Chappell provides answers in these inventive tales—answers that are by turns as circular as Borges, as richly symbolic as Kafka, and as zany as Woody Allen.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 1991

ISBN: 0-312-06418-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more