A satisfying blend of history and myth that breathes new life into “Cinderella.”

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A loving re-creation of a well-known fairy tale.

The story, set in the mid-1600s, begins in earnest when Olivia, the fifth Hempstead daughter, catches the eye of a local baron, who subsequently “ha[s] her in the bushes.” A few months later, when it becomes obvious that Olivia is pregnant, Lord and Lady Hempstead send her away from their grand home to hide their shame. But after the young woman dies during childbirth, her loving nursemaid, Bessie, takes the baby—named Lucinda—back to her grandparents and convinces them to let them both live in a high, secluded wing of the manor. Unfortunately, the return to the family home is a mixed blessing for young Lucinda, who’s later put to hard labor by her relatives and forced to deal with condescension and abuse from the other children. Throughout, it’s Bessie—a veritable fairy godmother—who protects and guides the young child, whom one of her half siblings derisively labels “Lucy-cinder.” If this is all starting to sound familiar, it should, because Velmans’ (Jessaloup’s Song, 2011, etc.) ingenious novel is, at its core, an origin story for Cinderella. The author says in a note that she sees her project as a kind of tardy vindication of Charles Perrault, the 17th-century French author who’s often credited as the father of the fairy tale. (Perrault himself looms large as a character in the latter parts of the book.) Many years before the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen put pen to paper, Perrault gave the world Sleeping Beauty, Mother Goose, Little Red Riding Hood, and a host of other iconic characters. So although this novel mainly pays specific homage to "Cinderella," Velmans laces the book with references to those other tales. The author builds this network with remarkable care, and although the resulting novel is a complex web of influences, it’s never a confounding one. Furthermore, she writes in a delicate, ornate prose style that has a transporting effect, bringing readers back to Perrault’s time and nestling them in a thoroughly alluring narrative.  

A satisfying blend of history and myth that breathes new life into “Cinderella.”

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9994756-0-7

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Van Horton Books

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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