The canned southern whimsy is rather self-consciously cute and provides gags rather than character development.

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WORK SHIRTS FOR MADMEN

A nominally comic novel in which a Southern artist contends with his wife, his drinking, his buddies and his out-of-control life.

Sculptor Harp Spillman has been so far inside the bourbon bottle that when word comes to him he’s won a commission from Birmingham, Ala., to construct a dozen 12-foot metal angels out of nuts and bolts, he can’t remember having even applied. It turns out that he hadn’t. His wife, Raylou, applied on Harp’s behalf, believing that a healthy artistic focus—and the promise of a healthy paycheck—would help him quit drinking, at least temporarily. Raylou is a craftsman who, as narrator Harp informs us, makes “goofball face jugs” whose popularity defies rational scrutiny. “Goofball” is not a bad description of the novel as a whole, for the narrative begins with Raylou rescuing snapping turtles from a biotoxicologist. We also find out that Harp’s reputation as a sculptor is on the skids because ice sculptures he cunningly crafted for a Republican fundraiser revealed other images as they melted: a Grand Wizard under the sculpture of Jesse Helms, Mussolini under Strom Thurmond and Lucifer under Charlton Heston. Harp tries to straighten himself out through the 12-step program of Carolina Behavior but resists much of the way. Singleton sets up a series of comic plot contrivances—for example, it turns out that Frank and Joe’s metalwork business has been split up into Joe’s Nuts and Frank’s Bolts—but they don’t add up to much. This is the kind of novel in which the narrator eats Mallo Cups, Hershey Kisses and Little Debbie cakes and washes them all down with Yoo-hoo, and characters play Drunken Jeopardy, whose categories include moonshine, famous characters from Tennessee (“Jim Beam”) and whiskies with a wild-animal theme (“Old Crow,” “Wild Turkey”).

The canned southern whimsy is rather self-consciously cute and provides gags rather than character development.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-101307-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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