A diverting travelogue with some admirable writing but little arc or narrative theme beyond assorted recipes.

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The Incompetent Cook

World traveler Idris Granger doesn’t cook well, but in Thomas’ collection of short stories, he collects recipes for different delicious dishes everywhere he goes.

Over the course of these 10 tales, Granger sees parts of the world that most people wouldn’t think of visiting. Each story is accompanied by a recipe Granger learned from one of the other characters, who range from the daughter of an Irish pub owner to a would-be kidnapper in Australia to Granger’s roommate in South Africa. The stories are either full of action or personal tension. For instance, working in a mining camp in Tasu, British Columbia, Granger discovers a cook who abuses his assistant, and the story centers around what the rest of the crew do about it. Granger leaves with a recipe for fish pie. He gets a recipe for seafood chowder from his friend Dan, a “fugitive recovery agent”—aka bounty hunter—in Italy. While hunting pigs in Australia, Granger and a boxing champion come across kidnappers, one of whom gets a lighter sentence for being coerced into his crime and for having a great recipe for lamb shanks. Tales like the latter strain credulity to the breaking point, and at times, the recipe element seems forced into the story for the sake of the theme. Only the most dedicated gourmand would accept that a kidnapper could cook meat well enough for it to factor into a legal judgment. Thomas does have an eye for description, though. His characters frequently feel real, and his settings capture danger and beauty, whether at a camp in Israel or in a sprawling countryside. What readers don’t get is any real sense of who Granger is, what he might believe or why food is so important to him. He’s an empty vessel, a stand-in for the reader, often a mere spectator. He simply drifts, leaving the settings and supporting characters to do the heavy lifting.

A diverting travelogue with some admirable writing but little arc or narrative theme beyond assorted recipes.    

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1477580301

Page Count: 324

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 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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