TO THE WHITE SEA

Dickey doesn't write many novels—three in 23 years—but he makes every one count. And when he's in peak form, as he is here, he makes every word count as well: In this unforgettable story of an American soldier escaping across WW II Japan—a story closer in spirit to Deliverance (1970) than to Anilam (1987)—the prose of this 70-year-old poet slices down to the bone of things like an immaculate knife. On a bombing mission over Tokyo, the B-29 carrying Dickey's hero/narrator—the gunner Muldrow—is shot down, forcing him to parachute into enemy territory. But Muldrow isn't like other men: Raised as a hunter in Alaska, he knows how to get things done. He alone survived the plane crash because he alone had the foresight to tape a parachute to the plane wall—and the same knack for survival gets him out of Tokyo by allowing him to take what he needs as Allied planes firebomb the city. He needs clothes: Amid the heat and smoke, he finds the right-sized man and blows him away. Muldrow decides to head for Japan's northern island of Hokkaido; there, in the snow and the cold, he will survive. He walks; he hops a train; he kills. He meets his match in a blind swordsman, and he almost dies when he encounters an American Zen monk who betrays him—just as this incident, alone in the novel, betrays Dickey's artifice through its too obvious contrast between the monk's grasping for reality and Muldrow's practiced hold on it. As Muldrow treks north, the mercilessness of that hold becomes ever more apparent and is mirrored in the stark beauty of the ever harsher landscape; by the lyrically brutal conclusion, Muldrow, like the animals he admires, has become one with the land: "I was in it, and part of it. I matched it all." A ruthless adventure of body and soul by a writer of mature- -even awesome—powers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0385313098

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1993

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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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