A droll piece of romantic whimsy, with an unexpected resonance.

MARGARETTOWN

When you love Margaret Towne, you love all the Margaret Townes.

At first, it seems this is going to be another tale of a young intellectual’s obsessive romance with a slightly younger and much crazier, if fascinating, woman—Sterile Cuckoo for a new generation—but, happily, it becomes something even stranger. “N,” a teaching assistant in philosophy at a nameless university, falls for Margaret Towne when he comes to her dorm room to find out why she has yet to attend a class. She says she feels tired, “like I haven’t slept in years and years,” and then says that N., too, looks tired—would he like to sleep there? N. wakes the next day thoroughly besotted with the mercurial Margaret, who seems to drift through life motivated by shadowy inner urges and with a whole closet full of secrets that N. spends the rest of the time trying to parse out. This fractured love story, it soon turns out, is being written as a letter by a sick and dying N. to his young daughter, so she can learn about her parents. The central question—who is it that N. actually loves?—is raised when, not long after their relationship has begun, Margaret takes N. to meet her family in, yes, Margarettown. Just how far the story departs from reality isn’t clear, though once N. meets the family, we know that something is different. There’s happy young May, surly teenager Mia, bitter and middle-aged Marge, and the self-explanatory Old Margaret, all seeming to resemble a certain love of N.’s, though at different periods in her life. Newcomer Zevin, who will publish a YA novel in the fall, takes this scenario and runs with it, though gently, never working overly hard to push her characters into emotional extremis but allowing N. and Margaret to muddle pleasantly through their baffling life, chasing after the idea of what it means to be in love with one person (do you love all of them? or just one?).

A droll piece of romantic whimsy, with an unexpected resonance.

Pub Date: May 25, 2005

ISBN: 1-4013-5242-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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