A story about a father and son who bond against the odds, with an ending as quirkily satisfying as the rest of the book.

EAST OF DENVER

You can go home again, but Lord knows why you’d ever want to. Such is the lesson learned by rural drifter Stacey “Shakespeare” Williams in this agreeable, offbeat debut novel.

A deceased cat leads Shakespeare from Denver to his father’s farm, where he hopes to find a suitable burial space. Instead, he finds his father deep into senility, not aware that his longtime caretaker recently dropped dead in his bathroom. He’s also been swindled by the owner of the local bank, who’s already stolen Pa’s beloved airplane and is about to foreclose on the farm. Shakespeare settles in for the long haul, and the people he reconnects with—town bully/drug dealer D.J. Beckman and oversexed bank teller Clarissa McPhail—remind him of why he left. But he spends most of the narrative with his father, once a gifted carpenter/inventor and now in the grip of something that looks like Alzheimer’s. Hill doesn’t soft-pedal the sadness of the situation, even while playing up the father’s constant forgetfulness and quick flashes of coherence for their dry and dark humor. Likewise, a subplot about an old classmate who’s now paraplegic is neither sentimentalized nor played for cheap laughs. The only hole is that we learn almost nothing of Shakespeare’s back story: We find that he is genetically unable to smell, an odd detail that doesn’t bear on the plot, but never find out what he did for a living. Shakespeare eventually decides that his best option is an unrealistic plan to rob the bank; whether he’ll go through with it is a running question throughout the book.

A story about a father and son who bond against the odds, with an ending as quirkily satisfying as the rest of the book.

Pub Date: July 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-95279-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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