OEDIPUS AT STALINGRAD

The first American edition of Rezzori's (The Orient Express, 1992, etc.) vicious satire of prewar Berlin originally published in Germany in 1954. Traugott von Jassilkowski is a young East Prussian who abandons his middle-class mother after his father dies, and heads to Berlin, determined to enter the privileged nobility. He goes about becoming royalty by dressing the part, eating at all the right places, and drinking at Charley's Bar, the main watering hole for young Berlin nobility. Jassilkowski also searches out the ideal lady of stature for marriage. He finds his ``blonde thoroughbred'' in the young daughter of a munitions manufacturer who is always in Charley's. She is a woman ``with a past,'' and Jassilkowski tries to reconcile memories of his pure, noble mother with the life of the lustful society girl. This all takes place between the summers of 1938 and 1939, the impending war looming throughout the book, although all of the protagonists view the war as just another chance to shore up their social standings. Writing during the bitterness of postwar reconstruction, Rezzori adopts a tone that is brutally condescending—not only toward his subjects but also to his readers. The book is packed with literary and philosophical quotes and is more of a nihilistic meditation on whether it is even worth it to write the present novel. Rezzori's writing is breathtakingly dense, although he frequently short-circuits himself by dismissing the story he is not really telling. The effect is a static, frustrating experience, sort of like watching a movie by an upper-class Fassbinder, but without the dark humor of Fassbinder himself. As Rezzori writes: ``Alas, I belong to that group Voltaire singled out as the only truly evil one: the bores!'' Although the novel is about prewar Germany, it will be interesting only to obsessive students of the postwar German psyche.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-22426-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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