Tired and familiar territory, but not without some promise.

WHEN THE FINCH RISES

A stilted, self-conscious debut chronicles one of those defining boyhood friendships that changes life forever.

The year and the friendship that transform adolescence are by now a familiar cliché. Though southern author Riggs tries to give them literary heft by turning the flight of finches into metaphors to frame the narrative, the story is essentially a collection of types and incidents—promising much but never delivering, as the predictable cast of doomed characters inevitably mess up. Set in the 1960s in a small North Carolina town on flood-prone Finch Creek, the story is told by Raybert, who lives with his unstable mother Inez. Daddy, a former GI, has a drinking problem and is often away, and Raybert’s best friend Palmer lives across the street. Palmer is slight for his age, has a flaming birthmark on his head, and regularly consults with RC, his dead father. His mother has a new man in her life, Edgar, a hard-drinking pervert, who takes and collects photographs. When Raybert turns 13, his life becomes even more complicated as Palmer steals one of Edgar’s photographs that shows a lynching of a local African-American. The picture clearly shows Raybert’s Daddy as part of the mob. With this to ponder, the year starts going into free-fall as Daddy comes back and tries to woo Inez with a new garden that’s soon destroyed by the flooding Finch Creek; and Inez has a miscarriage, breaks down, and is hospitalized. Meanwhile, Palmer increasingly angers the abusive Edgar with his pert comments. Palmer, whose mother is as abusive as Edgar, dreams of running away to Myrtle Beach with Raybert as soon as he can reach the pedals of RC’s 1965 Pontiac Catalina, currently parked in the drive. As Edgar gets the Pontiac running and notches up his abuse, Raybert’s Daddy moves out and Raybert goes to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle. Poor Palmer isn’t so fortunate.

Tired and familiar territory, but not without some promise.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-46794-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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