THE RUNAWAY SOUL

Brodkey's long, long, long-awaited first novel that could not possibly live up to expectations—and yet, largely, does. One must forgive Brodkey or oneself for not being able to take in every page of this 800-page novel with equal thirst. Tedious passages, reread later, spring to life—and some remain tiresome (for now). The story focuses on the childhood, youth, and first marriage (not in that order!) of Wiley Silenowicz, a Missouri genius, and the role of his hideously vile-tempered sister Nonie as a shadow in all people Wiley meets or marries. Earlier sketches seen in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode (1988) are mere charcoal prefigurings of what appears here—and seem pared and objective set beside the bathyspheric subjectivity of the novel. The plot?—a psychic web of small electrical events feeding and racing everywhere, and never stated formally. Nothing happens now: every action arrives through a veil, often at merciless length. Wiley, at two, has been adopted by S.L. and Lila of St. Louis, who have a blood-daughter, Nonie, 11 years older than Wiley. Nonie, who must give pain to be alive, rules the roost, and we follow her demonic life until her death by fire in her early 40s (Wiley tells this story, a hugely askew elegy, nearly 20 years after her death). Events include baby sensations as S.L. lifts up Wiley and walks about filling him with fatherly advice; Lila's fabulous car accident as she forgetfully drives her Buick into a bus, flees on three-inch heels wearing a fox neckpiece; masturbation solo and in tandem; vast sex scenes, one at 14, his first coupling (almost), which is forever interrupted by Nonie, and a later sexfest with his deliberately inorgasmic wife Ora; trips with a homosexual older cousin; and separate death-scenes for S.L. and Lila, which spread all over the novel. Forget the Proust comparison. Brodkey is himself, and many pages here have the deep-rolling profound thrust, painterly originality, and lightning-bolt flash of great art. But many readers will fade early.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-25286-6

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

more