THE ODD WOMAN

A NOVEL

After all these assertive maidens and housewives, Gail Godwin's The Odd Woman—her major work to date—is very different—just like Jane Clifford, a plain Jane, unfashionable, odd—both single and singular. She has none of the stylish assurance or self-sufficiency of all but one of the people she knows. She's even—God forbid—a romantic, looking for "her best life" while wondering whether one can even have a good one if unattached. With mostly literature to go by (she teaches the English novel in a midwestern college) she would like to find, as George Eliot did, that "Being happy in each other we find everything easy." Thus we come around to the point, or rather go back to it, questioning whether emancipation/enlightenment assures freedom, let alone peace of mind. During the few days here Jane's experiences seem to demand reassessment and a parti pris. She goes home to her grandmother's funeral and picks up pieces of the past: her grandmother, an elegant woman, was never more complete than after she was widowed; her mother has escaped a second impulsive marriage to a rigid, common man via God and the church. While Jane herself leaves for New York to meet Gabriel—her sometime lover, courtesy of the MLA, of two years ("fourteen furtive fucks" as her viciously amusing and defoliating femme-libbing friend Gerda says). Gabriel is not only married but reticent, pedantic and even frugal. There are marvelous scenes whether fantasized or actual and particularized: Jane in Saks trying to buy a dress and leaving it behind in a taxi; or going to see the lonely old man who might have been the ruin of a great-aunt—returned in a coffin. And in the end Jane goes back to school—the anachronism, the odd woman out. May she yet find that best life—perhaps there's no such thing. In lieu of it, settle for a fine book without any of that insular modish sophistication. Gail Godwin achieves a collaboration of the mind and the heart in a novel of experience which can enlarge our own via one of the most appealing young women of many seasons.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1974

ISBN: 0345389913

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1974

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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