More politics than novel. A movie version could be more interesting than the print.

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PEACOCK CRIES

A political drama set against the backdrop of the Three Gorges Dam project in China.

Why Hong (K: The Art of Love, 2002, etc.) would choose to fight the damming of the Yangtze River and its resultant environmental damage by writing a novel is a question that arises from a reading of this one. Why she would provide an autobiographical preface explaining her own involvement with the Three Gorges region, then an afterword outlining the Chinese legend on which her book is based, is another. As a stylist, Hong is no W.G. Sebald, and when she creates situations that have environmental innuendos—a scene that takes place in a laboratory, for example, while a sandstorm rages outside—she telegraphs them as meaningful details, explorations of natural power to be controlled, and reflections of her characters’ internal sensibilities. The story focuses on genetic engineer Liu, whose husband, Li, is the director of the dam project (they have in common that both seek to manipulate nature). When Li, a busy, moveable target, uncharacteristically has a pretty underling deliver a large bottle of perfume to Liu, Liu becomes suspicious and sets out to track him down. In the process, she takes a trip back to the region of her youth, where she learns about the corrupt world of the previous generation, including her father’s involvement with the discrediting of his own friends, and perhaps her husband’s lethal corruption. There, she meets Yueming, poor artist son of her mother’s former best friend, who was born on the same day as Liu herself and who organizes protests against the high-handed treatment of peasants forced to vacate their land because of the dam project. In the end, the two approximate the legendary attempted escape of a prostitute and a monk who were executed solely to satisfy the personal ambition of Liu and Yueming’s fathers, 50 years before.

More politics than novel. A movie version could be more interesting than the print.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7145-3100-6

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Marion Boyars

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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