COUNTING COUP

A second helping from North Carolina writer Gearino (What the Deaf-Mute Heard, 1995), whose style seems to be evolving from southern gothic to southern maudlin. Journalists have been known as tough guys at least since Julius Caesar's first stint as a war correspondent, but somehow Tad Beckman doesn't seem to fit the mold. Sardonic and knowing enough in his down-home, corn-pone style, Tad writes a column three times a week for the Barrington Chronicle, a small-town Georgia daily. Only child Tad's Yankee father was killed in WW II while Tad was still in his mother's womb, and the boy grew up trapped in the narrow space between his grandfather's redneck cruelty and his mother's manic despair. An outsider and a drifter, Tad falls into journalism after college and quickly discovers a talent for it, especially when he goes beyond the simple mechanics of reporting and becomes the advocate of some lost cause or character. ``A few times in my life, I've been able to fix something. . . . As a result, people think I have magical powers: They believe I can change things by writing about them.'' Unfortunately, even Tad himself seems to think so after a fashion, until he's brought up short by the sorts of realities he'd always believed himself well- prepared for. First, a woman who had turned to him for help is brutally murdered after he dismisses her story as small change. Then he becomes embroiled in an elaborate investigation of a shady real-estate developer whose affairs turn out to be lethal. The cloak-and-dagger atmosphere he's drawn into eventually proves Tad's undoing as a journalist. He settles down, in the end, only after he's discovered the truth of the mystery that haunts him: that of his family and himself. Gripping and taut for much of the way, but toward the close Gearino loses his focus and ends up rambling.

Pub Date: July 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-684-83726-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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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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