The premise is that women should know more joy in their lives, but this hollow novel is a joyless chore.

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FLIRTING WITH FORTY

Seattle divorcée hopes surf lessons will be a solution to her midlife crisis.

When they divorced, Jackie Laurens’s husband got the vacation house in Palm Springs and a hot young girlfriend. Jackie got the kids and a mega-dose of bitterness. She works as an interior designer, a job that requires her to coddle affluent clients during their outrageous shopping sprees. In her free time, Jackie and her friends gripe about their empty lives and the endless familial obligations that take up so much time. It’s a stretch to feel pity for this privileged crew of heavily caffeinated and flawlessly highlighted ladies. As she nears her 40th birthday, Jackie surmises that her existence is shallow and that she is owned by her possessions. The solution to her malaise is decidedly uninspired—on a quest to simplify her life and find true happiness she books a luxurious getaway to Hawaii. Her search leads her to Kai, a surf instructor. This surfer boy leads a life free from guilt and expectations. Kai provides Jackie with a little spiritual guidance and a lot of steamy sex. Jackie is drawn to his live-for-today philosophy. It doesn’t hurt that this feel-good guru happens to be smoking-hot and ten years younger. The two lovers carry on a long-distance romance that shocks Jackie’s friends and her ex-husband. Despite their disapproval, Jackie continues to see Kai—he makes her feel sexy, young and full of potential, but the impracticalities of the relationship eventually wear Jackie down. She talks a big game about embracing life, but she’s pitiful when it comes to putting her words into action. In the hands of Porter (The Frog Prince, not reviewed), the plight of the middle-aged woman is bleak. The book reads like a rough draft of a memoir, lacking polish and nuance. The ruminations of the heroine are monotonous and the ending is as subtle as a Lifetime made-for-TV movie.

The premise is that women should know more joy in their lives, but this hollow novel is a joyless chore.

Pub Date: July 13, 2006

ISBN: 0-446-69726-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: 5 Spot/Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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