TRAVELING COMPANIONS

Devastating grim-wit about Alexander Chubinets, whom Soviet humorist Felix Zabrodsky—himself made up by Soviet ÇmigrÇ Gorenstein—makes up to accompany him on an overnight trip on the mail train from Kiev to Zdolbunov. Chubinets, a crippled minor playwright in the manner of a true Dostoevskian/Tolstoyan storyteller, fixes Zabrodsky with a shadowy eye and keeps him up all night with his horrendous life story and its wasteland of tragedies. Chubinets is from the Ukrainian village of Chubintsy, where half the folk, even those without blood ties, are named Chubinets. Chubinets has had a childhood of relentless horror: ``Life is a doormat at the gate of heaven: before entering paradise, everyone has to wipe his feet on it, saints and sinners alike.'' He tells of the German occupation in the early 40's, the Germans at first being better rulers than the Soviets. But soon the Germans are burning huge heaps of people, tremendous hills that for months give off a stench of still-smoldering human flesh. ``The gigantic scale of bestiality in this century...is the work of ridiculous little mannequins who dreamed up their theories in bars and coffeehouses. As a result, the mediocrity of the executioners inadvertently detracts from the victims...[and] gives their fate a touch of indecency.'' Chubinets falls in with a theatrical troupe, writes a play about himself. At last the Soviets recover the town from the Germans, and Chubinets spends seven years in a labor camp near Siberia. All in Zabrodsky/Gorenstein's mind, of course. Details and moments throughout strike inventive lightning flashes of the highest order—but this is a novel, like salted fish, that not all will wish to chew on.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-15-191074-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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