An ambitious, wide-ranging historical novel with some questionable cultural assertions.

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BAREFOOT ON A FROSTY MORN

AN AMERICAN GENEALOGICAL NOVEL

Raley’s (The Prodigal, 2016, etc.) novel tells the story of several families whose fates become intertwined from the 17th century onward.

Beginning in 1671 with the arrival in the Virginia Colony of Sir Henry Beaufort-DuCordier, 72, this novel traces several family lines as they spread across America and marry, prosper, or falter. Henry’s daughter Katherine marries three times, to Richard Blackwell, Phillip Sterling, and David Stafford (Phillip’s brother). Henry’s servant Matthew Stokesbury founds another line, in which some descendants shorten the name to Stokes; others in the family tree include the Ogilvies and Pickfords. Each chapter adopts the era’s linguistic style, as when Henry challenges Katherine’s choice of suitor with “Will thy strutting jack-a-dandy provide thee roof and warmth with his magical song and verse?” Various characters open an academy for young ladies in the Carolinas, live and intermarry with Cherokees, rescue a European woman from an African seraglio, survive a shipwreck, and fight in the Civil War. In the final chapter, the DuCordier name folds back into the story with Frenchwoman Madelaine-Marie DuCordier, who marries a Stokes as a 1940s war bride. Chapters begin or end with commentary from fictional genealogical sources including books, websites, and postings from people seeking information about ancestors. These often reveal confusion about facts that readers become privy to—a clever comment on the process by which everyday life becomes history. Raley uses the family-saga genre imaginatively, showing himself to be a versatile storyteller in many registers: tragic, picaresque, even magical realist. That said, he could have done more to show why readers should care about these people as a family rather than as a collection of stories; there’s no real throughline that connects them aside from the title image, referring to a woman left to fend for herself by an untrustworthy man, which only applies in a few cases. The book’s sweeping generalizations about particular cultures are unfortunate, as well, such as asserting the “sexual lust of African despots for young European women” and the idea that “Like all Frenchmen, [Madelaine-Marie] understood and claimed as her own the diamantine reasoning of Descartes.”

An ambitious, wide-ranging historical novel with some questionable cultural assertions.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59095-342-6

Page Count: -

Publisher: First Class Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2017

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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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