Over-the-top melodrama, but not without its own preposterous charm.

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BLISS

Living large . . . but living a lie.

Francesca Valentine, world-renowned violinist, sees a tabloid article that reveals her former name and a photo of her formerly very fat self, and wants to die of shame. Her two perfect children, Jessica and Jon, never knew that she was just “a fat black girl from Marietta, Georgia,” born Claudia Jenkins, twin sister of the eternally hungry and flatulent Bone. Her fondness for her mother Willamina’s cornbread, fried chicken, and other soul food gave her a butt big enough to make a piano stool disappear, according to her foul-mouthed daddy, known as the Deacon. He was always trying to distract the miserable but musically gifted young girl when she practiced anyhow. Well, Hattie Mae, a mysterious relative, took matters into her own capable hands and gave Claudia something she doesn’t have to sit on: a violin. Soon, her incredible talent got her accepted into the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra. Again, Hattie Mae stepped in and swept Claudia away to Europe, where she was tutored by an Italian genius (with a rare talent for oral sex). Many arpeggios and orgasms later, she had a new name—Francesca Valentine—and a new life. Now, she has graced the covers of magazines and dined with princes and diplomats, even performed for a US president and one monarch (neither named) for good measure. But something’s missing . . . . Then not Claudia’s but Hattie Mae’s story unfolds in flashback: serving time for murder, she was pardoned by the lecherous governor and released, only to become his personal in-house sex slave. Even though he seems to prefer an inventive and rather repellent form of squirming to actual intercourse, she becomes pregnant. Hoping to give her illegitimate child every advantage in life becomes her obsession—and she finds a young pregnant girl to stand in for her as Claudia’s mother (this would be Willamina, mother of Bone).

Over-the-top melodrama, but not without its own preposterous charm.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-76103-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2002

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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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