Something new from the antic provocateur whose recent books have been frustratingly uneven. Welsh’s best since his...

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THE BEDROOM SECRETS OF THE MASTER CHEFS

The dangerous symbiotic relationship embracing two profoundly different protagonists forms the core of Scottish-born Welsh’s seventh novel.

“Environmental Health Officer” Danny Skinner inspects restaurants for the Edinburgh City Council, whenever not drinking to blissful excess or pleasuring himself with gorgeous girlfriend Kay. Danny’s bilious contempt for grandstanding celebrity chef Alan De Fretais (whose bestselling amalgam of culinary and erotic advice provides Welsh’s splendid title) draws the ire of his superiors—and opens doors for his nondescript new colleague Brian Kibby. The latter is an innocuous virginal innocent, whose mystification over Danny’s inexplicable contempt for him is exacerbated by his father’s lingering fatal illness, and its effects on his frail mother, Joyce. When Danny is stricken with a “mystery virus” that seems to replicate his father’s ordeal, Danny feels his arrogant cocksureness begin to crumble (“He had come to regard Kibby as his mirror, a road map of his own mortality”). Attempting to mend his dissolute ways, Danny heads for California to seek the father he never knew—but returns to Edinburgh unenlightened, as Brian (who has made a surprising, if incomplete recovery) falls into a pattern of righteous anger that further complicates their compulsive mutual obsessions. The truth about Danny’s heritage, far darker and more despairing than Danny imagines, is in fact buried in the Kibby family’s history. And it stuns them both with savage ironic force in the novel’s extended climax, provoked by Danny’s romantic interest in Brian’s sister Caroline, and a long-untold story finally rescued from silence. Welsh braids these dramatic particulars together with considerable skill, despite a slackening of intensity in segments narrated by peripheral characters, and the relegation of the title subplot to almost incidental status. Nevertheless, the narrative doesn’t let up, and the hammerblows keep landing.

Something new from the antic provocateur whose recent books have been frustratingly uneven. Welsh’s best since his spectacular debut novel Trainspotting.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-393-06453-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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