Preposterous plot, maudlin prose.

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SILENCE AND SHADOWS

Former punk-rocker turned amateur archeologist mourns for the dead wife he betrayed, in a second from the British author of Ferney (1999).

Patrick Kane is haunted by a cynical song he wrote about wedding vows that became an anthem for millions of unfeeling louts. When his sensitive young wife, Rachel, accidentally heard it on the radio, she assumed it was a crude betrayal of their love. But really, he wrote it only because the "mandarins of punk" thought it would be a hit. No matter. The brokenhearted Rachel ran sobbing into the road, where she and their son, David, were immediately struck by a convenient passing car. Now Patrick wishes he hadn't listened to the music tycoons who persuaded him to hide his marriage from legions of adoring female fans and encouraged his drinking, carousing, and—gasp!—thoughtless behavior. Now he is so alone . . . until he joins an archeological dig in a small English town, rubs shoulders with hearty blokes by the name of Dozer and Ken, meets a Rachel look-alike, and then somehow unearths the grave of a pagan queen. Patrick's dreams echo with fragments of a song chronicling the queen's deeds of valor—fragments uncannily echoed in turn by a local eccentric named Joe, who likes to howl on hilltops and channel the spirits. Joe and Patrick gradually piece together the brave monarch's story, related in a lot of truly dreadful doggerel: "The girl was made in her mother's mould / Her hair was a weave of red and gold, / It flowed from her head like a river spun / From the crimson rays of the western sun. / She was bold as a wolf and fast as a hawk / And she learnt to run before she walked. / When more years passed, a son was born / And the old king knew that his line went on . . .”

Preposterous plot, maudlin prose.

Pub Date: March 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-553-10863-8

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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