STRANGE TRAFFIC

Novelist Dische (Pious Secrets, 1991) is an American living in Berlin, and these varying but generally lively stories show the influence of their author's knowing more than one culture. Dische has a facility for portraiture that gives her characters palpable identities, although they dwell in stories that don't often reach very high beyond slightness or dig very much deeper than the amusing. In the contrived ``A Prior Engagement,'' a gay American restaurateur in Berlin holds a sexual grudge for 20 years, while in ``An Innocent Vacation'' an American girl in the late '60s finds herself in Libya during the Qaddafi revolution. Whatever potential depth lies in these subjects, tone and manner remain too stylish and determinedly amusing to reach it, as they do also in ``Portrait of a Defection'' (an East German scientist triesand failsto leave his mother behind the Iron Curtain). Stories about old age include ``The Passion of Nanny Jackie'' (an Irish girl from an abusive family cares for an aging poet in New York), ``Mr. Lustgarten Falls in Love'' (a Polish housekeeper turns out to be not a seductress but a capable helper), and the very moving sketch of an educated European ÇmigrÇ in New York suffering from advanced Alzheimer's (``The Doctor Needs a Home''). Other pieces depend on characters who tend to become unengaging through being too broadly painted, like the German woman so obtusely insensitive to Eastern bloc foreigners (``The Smuggled Wedding Ring'') or the Berlin couple who like order better than sex (``An Aesthetic Compromise of Small Importance''). Dische's impulse as satirist seems not yet at home with her impulse as an explorer of feeling, and the longish ``Strange Traffic'' (a Berlin woman, for profit, pretends to be Jewish) aims for both head and heart, tending to glance off both. Interesting, often intelligent stories still looking for their own natural way of being.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-8050-4172-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1995

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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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