A thoughtful, philosophical skimming of American culture, but one that misses an opportunity to turn its observations into...



A contemplative novel in which a foreign student seeks an education in both women and American culture.

Two young roommates, Charles and Henry, are watching a TV program graphically depicting the execution of one of Henry VIII’s wives. It spurs a late-night philosophical conversation about men’s dominance over women, leading Henry to declare that “the American woman is quite exceptional and unique.” Charles, a foreigner originally from Africa and studying in Austin, Texas, fixates on the idea. Their subsequent dialogue about this certain allure of American women continues ad nauseam as they lazily consume tacos, pizza and TV. “Freedom makes her appreciate the fact that beauty is significantly essential to her inner calmness, confidence, and the environment,” Henry muses. Eventually, as they bring up these ideas with other friends and professors, fascinating observations arise about American culture compared to the rest of the world. Yet much of it feels far removed from the reality of an American woman’s life. Their dialogues remain completely respectful—there are no crass vulgarities that might be expected from college-age males, only vague allusions to “midnight trysts.” But the conversations are also formal and academic to the point of feeling stiff, as if the initial brainstorming for a feminist-studies paper has been superimposed over these young men. The story picks up the most momentum when actual American women are present, but this comes a bit too little, too late. As Henry’s friend Lisa points out: “I think for Charles to appreciate the mindset of an American woman, he needs to date one. Talking about her just won’t cut it. All talk and no action.” Along those lines, a stronger female counterpoint to Charles’ probing, right from the beginning, would have given the narrative some much-needed dramatic tension and balance. Unfortunately, for all the interesting ideas that Charles and Henry come up with relating to freedom and gender, their “modern American woman” is still trapped in the perspectives of men.

A thoughtful, philosophical skimming of American culture, but one that misses an opportunity to turn its observations into an engaging narrative.

Pub Date: June 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492147152

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 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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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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