Willie Black deserves a sequel.

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OREGON HILL

Owen’s (The Reckoning, 2010, etc.) 10th novel, part mystery, part character study.

Willie Black is a reporter in Richmond, Va. Pugnacious and defiant, Black was once a star covering politics, and then he was captured by the bottle, messed up one too many times and found himself demoted to the nighttime police beat. He has three ex-wives, a daughter who tolerates him and bean-counter bosses cutting costs by laying off reporters. Then Willie happens to catch a late-night report about a body in a river, which is determined to be the decapitated corpse of a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Isabel Ducharme. Diabolically, Isabel’s head has been shipped to her home in Boston. A suspect is quickly corralled, a sometime-student, sometime-deadbeat named Martin Fell who has a fondness for college girls. There’s a rapid confession. Willie thinks the story’s over, but then he gets a call from his latest ex-wife, now a lawyer, who wants him to meet with Fell’s mother and hear an alibi the police refuse to consider. Nearly all that happens is centered around Oregon Hill, a Richmond neighborhood, “a tight little inbred box” full of factory workers and laborers, fighters and drinkers. Owen’s characters are superbly realistic: Willie himself, sired by a light-skinned African-American musician; his white mother, rejected by family, who turned to serial boyfriends and marijuana; David Junior Shiflett, a police lieutenant whose father was killed in a barroom brawl; Valentine Chadwick IV, the elder Shiflett’s murderer; and Awesome Dude, once a student, now a brain-addled possible witness to Isabelle’s murder. Owen knows his setting, his dialogue is spot-on, and his grasp of the down-and-dirty work of the police and news reporters lends authenticity to the narrative. This is Southern literature as expected, with a touch of noir and with a touch of Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River

Willie Black deserves a sequel.

Pub Date: July 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57962-208-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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