A historical record, to be sure, however unsettling and erratically recounted, but this 2000 Goncourt winner details much...

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INGRID CAVEN

A real-life German singer and actress (she married filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder) unrolls some fabulous name-dropping in a lightly fictionalized series of reminiscences written by a man named Charles (a.k.a. author Schuhl), who lives with her.

Singing for the Führer’s troops at age five makes material for Ingrid Caven’s lifelong running gag—and the definitive event novelist Schuhl returns to again and again in recounting her life. Ingrid is a plucky girl from Saarland with a terrible skin problem and a wondrous voice, which propels her through classical training and on to accolades on the Munich stage (that’s when she meets a lonely boy in black leather who wants to make films—the Wunderkind of German film). Over the years, Ingrid will mingle with the likes of Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, and even become embroiled with the Baader Meinhof Gang. A sensational Paris debut and suddenly the “little hurting girl in borrowed clothes” becomes really famous, meeting Bette Davis and Satie, flying about the world as the wife of Fassbinder, who turns out to be a drug-using homosexual. In telling Ingrid’s story, Charles is a kind of misanthropic alter ego: he follows the singer around, has affairs of his own, reports a lot of hearsay and snatched dialogue, but provides little sense of interior life. Charles/Schuhl is in fact an adoring, hagiographic narrator, and, in the end he presents a sequence of elliptical reminisces (orally recounted, evidently) rather than an organic novel you can sink your teeth into. The climax comes at Fassbinder’s untimely funeral (he was 38), when, with all his actresses linked up front as if at a premiere, a posthumous piece of paper is discovered detailing Fassbinder’s outline for a script about the life of Ingrid Caven, “the woman he loved.”

A historical record, to be sure, however unsettling and erratically recounted, but this 2000 Goncourt winner details much glam and little substance.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-87286-427-8

Page Count: 254

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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