MOTHER AND TWO DAUGHTERS

Broadening and deepening the speculations on personal destiny and societal straitjackets touched upon in Violet Clay (1978), Godwin now offers her best work yet: a striking triptych of three contemporary women-in-transit—whose lives "continue to bounce off one another, adding new evidence. . . ." Leonard Strickland—gentle, concerned with Truth—briefly reflects on his life choice of "dealing justly" with family and self rather than manning barricades for humanity at large. . . just before his fatal heart attack. So his widow Nell and his two daughters cluster warily, abrasively, after his death, before spinning apart to new, more stable, curiously renewing passages. Cate, still the family irritant though nearly 40, has yet to produce a pearl of "accomplishment": married and divorced twice, jolting erratically from job to job teaching English (once fired for leading little girls to block the Lincoln Tunnel in protest against the Cambodia bombing), she scorns Success yet would be "outstanding." (A legacy from scrupulous, retiring Leonard?) And Cate ponders these matters as she becomes the lover of Roger Jernigan, a raw, pragmatic pesticide "baron" who lives in a castle; eventually, however, fearing the warm soup of protective security, she'll refuse marriage and have an abortion: "Keep a space ready for what you want" even if you don't now know what it is. Meanwhile, in contrast, younger sister Lydia's life is one of tight compartments (or what Cate regards as a "table-model kingdom"). Mother of two boys, Lydia hones close to her "public image": she sheds nice husband Max because of her lack of "sufficient enthusiasm"; she acquires a degree in sociology, a gifted black woman friend, and a malleable lover; and she'll ultimately star in a local TV cooking show. As Lydia tells her boys: "There are things that life expects from you and things you have a right to expect. . . . Get yourself organized." And as for mother Nell, she's loyal and compassionate with the sad, silly, brave old friends of her circle—and she is gradually weaned back to self and the "mellow ecstasy" of simply "being nobody." Finally, then, the three women—steamrolling Cate, secretly vulnerable Lydia coiled to strike, Nell bolstering and resignedly coping—have a climactic go-round at the family beach cottage. . . which will be symbolically destroyed by an untended fire. With rich, full portraits, seamless philosophic musings, and loamy village humor—a major novel from a talented writer really hitting her stride.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1981

ISBN: 0345389239

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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