A fast-paced, sometimes uneven, thoroughly engrossing story of a journey through pain and violence.



In this military thriller, a boy grows to maturity with violence, first at home, as its victim, and, finally, through martial arts and the military, as its master.

As a child in the 1960s, Paul Brett was often beaten by his vicious, drunk father. On his paper route he meets a man named Draeger, who teaches him pentjak silat—Indonesian martial arts. By the end of high school, Paul masters the techniques of this discipline. A run-in with the law leads him to enlist in the Army. He ends up in Vietnam with the Green Berets, operating secretly behind enemy lines in Laos. One mission goes horribly wrong; Paul goes AWOL, but he’s captured and thrown into a military prison in Maine, where he has to fight for his life to survive. This book is hard to put down, and at times, especially during scenes set in Vietnam, the realism is startling and palpable. The challenges of Paul’s life—emotional, physical and psychological—are compelling. First-time novelist Snyder uses a spare, direct vocabulary for the action scenes, though he sometimes switches to an elevated tone (“fathomless despair,” “mother’s watery womb”) that jars. And there are narrative gaps. After Paul begins his martial arts training, any mention of his home life ceases until many years have passed, including a pivotal incident when he first confronts his father’s abuse. After Draeger dies, Paul drops martial arts, an important part of his identity, and pentjak silat isn’t mentioned again until he is in prison, many years later. The fight scenes at the prison mostly take the form of visions, presented via various images, but are sketched with too little description of the physical confrontations.

A fast-paced, sometimes uneven, thoroughly engrossing story of a journey through pain and violence.

Pub Date: Dec. 16, 2004

ISBN: 978-0741423207

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Infinity Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2013

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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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