Relays political notions of racial and social identity through a smart, sympathetic, and laudable lead.




In Marzán’s (The Bonjour Gene, 2005, etc.) novel, a Puerto Rico–born lawyer struggles to find his identity after years in America, a country that views him through a narrow lens.

Eduardo “Eddie” Loperena, who moved from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, is known as “The Community’s Lawyer.” The Harvard Law graduate opened an office with a fellow attorney and fought for civil rights on behalf of Puerto Ricans living in the United States. But by 1987, Eddie, nearly 40 and newly divorced, leaves his practice and prepares to leave the States, where he feels equality isn’t possible. He plans to start anew, envisioning a place he calls Nowhere, and become a writer. Social justice, however, calls in the United States. An acquaintance asks Eddie to look into a case involving a man named Esteban, who’s facing a charge of attempted murder of a cop. It turns out that Esteban happens to be the half brother of Eddie’s ex-wife, Graziela. But it’s another favor that may land Eddie in serious trouble. His childhood friend, Carlos Benítez, cryptically asks Eddie to hold onto a couple of suitcases of “important papers.” Unfortunately, Carlos is now a drug dealer, and Detective Gerald Duffy, a former schoolmate of Eddie’s and Carlos’, links Eddie to the latter and, presumably, Carlos’ illicit deeds as well. Scrutiny from authorities may prohibit Eddie from attaining his freedom. But he wants to escape a country that hasn’t truly accepted him, and he’s weary of what he deems “The Conversation”—a never-ending discussion of race-related issues such as Puerto Ricans’ voting rights and certain Americans’ “English-Only” agenda. Marzán has created a dynamic protagonist who has his share of fallibilities. His infidelity prompted his divorce, for example. The novel has numerous tender moments portrayed via Eddie’s recurrent boyhood memories, such as his Mami Lalia schooling him on romance: “A woman truly in love…could see into your soul.” Throughout, the author ably addresses various political perspectives. Eddie clearly respects others’ opinions. His sister Rosy’s fiance, George, is an advocate for Puerto Rico’s statehood; Eddie adamantly disagrees but makes a concerted effort to avoid the topic and a probable argument. There are times when the story is grim, and it includes more than one shocking death. But Eddie’s persistent resolve, even as he’s sorting out his personal convictions regarding Puerto Ricans in America, is a buoyant, appealing trait, and it lightens the tone. Additionally, Marzán’s prose tends toward the poetic: “Pandemonium broke out as the radical middle and the entire youthful rear sector stood on their chairs to hoot and cheer while the suits in the front booed violently, stomping on the floor, provoking the radicals to throw their balled-up programs like grenades at the front rows.”

Relays political notions of racial and social identity through a smart, sympathetic, and laudable lead.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-948598-02-6

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Open Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2019

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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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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.


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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