COWBOY ANGST

Emmons achieves a sweet, laid-back tone in this debut novel, but he can't overcome the ennui inherent in yet another story of a member of Generation X who can't decide what to do with his life. Sapping matters further is the fact that Dennis McCance's next move is clear when the novel opens. After playing drums in a country and western band called Cowboy Angst in college, he gave law school a try. He didn't like it much, and now he's headed home to Montana for the summer to tell his parents that he's dropped out. In the meantime, Montana Wildhack (nÇe Janey Bowman), the lead singer for Cowboy Angst, wants McCance to join her in Austin, Tex., and start a band. The two have always been close friends, but it's obvious that there could be something more between them. The question is: What on earth is holding McCance back? He makes some vague references to the instability of the music business (Wildhack's father has made her solemnly swear not to wait tables after she turns 30); but since he loves his drums and Wildhack and little else, his indecision feels forced. Some red herrings are thrown into the mix: Susan Hall, a woman McCance has seen on and off when he's home in Montana, is back in town; and the tense relationship between him and his slightly weird deputy sheriff brother shakes things up a little. But there is always the sense that Emmons is dragging his feet. Too many anecdotes—including a tasteless one in which McCance recounts how he and a high school friend amused themselves on the band bus by playing ``dick tag, in which you had to touch people with your member without getting caught''—slow things down, and a final dramatic twist adds little except length. Emmons has a deft, casual delivery, and his hero's voice is seamless, but ultimately these feel wasted on a lackluster story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56947-021-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1994

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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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