Love him or hate him, Steven weighs his options with a unique and strong voice as he searches for the value of commitment in...

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ASKING ANNA

A NOVEL

In Seliger’s quirky debut, a 20-something who’s reluctant to propose to his girlfriend brings her to Seattle to visit old friends before he makes his final decision.

Rather than boarding the plane and seeing what happens, Steven is standing quietly in the security line thinking deep thoughts: “there is no better setting for revelation than a trip, ideally one fraught with meaning.” His internal monologue is, at times, overly ponderous. It’s also funny. Steven’s influences range from economist Dan Ariely to comedian Chris Rock as he tries to explain why he’s still carrying Anna’s ring around in a box rather than giving it to her; lists, charts, and footnotes illustrate his reasons. Even the auto-filled answers he finds in Google’s search results seem to offer insights on the differences between men and women when it comes to love (e.g., “why won’t she swallow” vs. “why won’t he marry me”). Some of his observations are eloquent—“so many old people become bitter over time, like over-brewed cups of tea”—while others are crude: “I like forward girls. And wet ones.” Steven tries consulting his old college buddies and casual partners about his dilemma, but all they do is become mirrors, showing him his own flaws. His friend Cooper, for instance, is too much of a party animal to have a mature opinion about marriage, and when Steven is tempted by other women in bars, he finds he’s not much better than Cooper. While Steven considers himself to be an academic, Anna more aptly describes him as being “in his late twenties, going on 16.” He’s so self-absorbed that Anna’s character is often more of an abstract idea than a living, breathing woman. It takes a cancer scare to show that Steven’s fear of adulthood isn’t limited to his fear of commitment. He barely acknowledges that his lab results might bring bad news as he stays out all night while Anna sleeps. He also fails to consider that Anna’s commitment to him isn’t guaranteed.

Love him or hate him, Steven weighs his options with a unique and strong voice as he searches for the value of commitment in a hookup culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495242212

Page Count: 242

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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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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