Jacobson is often likened to Philip Roth, but there’s plenty of Isaac Bashevis Singer in his somewhat weary understanding of...

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WHO'S SORRY NOW?

Another middle-age-angst–meets–sex-romp comedy from Jacobson (Man Booker Prize winner The Finkler Question, 2010, etc.), that great chronicler of modern rakery.

Originally published in Britain in 2002, before news of its author crossed the waters to these shores, Jacobson’s shaggy dog story is a little more descriptive and a little less conversational than his more recent work. Marvin Kreitman, South London’s luggage purveyor par excellence, is a picaresque lothario who just can’t help being who he is: He loves women unconditionally and unreasonably, so much so that besides the four women in his life—mother, wife (“When she wasn’t Oedipus she was Jocasta”), two daughters—he is desperately attempting to juggle relationships with five others. Added to this busy schedule, he keeps a standing lunch date each week with a school friend named Charlie who’s always been a bit of a schlimazel (“He drooped disconsolately, like a puppy who had grown too big for its owner and been thrown onto the streets”), even though he has a stable, apparently happy marriage of long standing and enjoys some success as the author of children’s books. Yet Charlie, like Kreitman (Jacobson uses the first name for the former, the last name for the latter, as if to suggest the differences in emotional age and worldliness), is vaguely dissatisfied, and he proposes an arrangement that surprises even the ever-scheming Kreitman. Before things can go too far, fate intervenes in the form of a schlemiel (“Not merely Man with No Qualities but Man with No Prospects of Qualities”) who complicates things dangerously, revealing Kreitman’s fixations as being the silly but eminently harmful things that they are. Things cannot help but end—well, if not badly, then in a little more disarray than when the tale began.

Jacobson is often likened to Philip Roth, but there’s plenty of Isaac Bashevis Singer in his somewhat weary understanding of the human condition. Fans won’t be disappointed.

Pub Date: July 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-60819-686-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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