Complex, assured stories that describe the complications of love and need with perfect pitch.

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AFTER THE GAZEBO

These well-observed short stories describe sometimes-uneasy, sometimes-hopeful reconciliations with fortune.

Most of the 24 short stories in this collection previously appeared in literary journals; some have been altered slightly for this publication. In the title story—which captures a mood underlying many in the collection—an unnamed couple’s road to marriage begins with adopting a pug and proceeds from there like some blandly idyllic TV montage: they walk the dog, name him Prince, and enjoy his excited jumping up and down; they get corporate jobs, plan a small wedding, and have the ceremony in a park gazebo. When disaster upends them, Prince has a new home, “but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would…spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.” Named or unnamed, male or female, young or old, the characters in these stories struggle more or less successfully to believe in their fates. Sometimes, as in “The Driver,” rhythms of marriage and friendship ease the process. Maggie accompanies her second husband, Frank—20 years her senior—to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where he fails a vision test. Afterward, they bicker on a safe topic—“I’ll be damned if I’m going to Bob Evans”—until “the discomfort of Frank’s new reality dissolved.” The car’s engine, like their marriage, settles, after an initial kick, “into a comfortable hum.” The stories are arranged well to bring similar themes together: parents, children, and siblings; addicts, criminals, and twelve-steppers; workplaces; disasters, natural and otherwise. In many passages, Knox (Don’t Tease the Elephants, 2014, etc.) displays a keen pithiness: the pug’s “bunched face,” an old man’s insight about the ruthlessness shared by CEOs and addicts: “You got the really out and out and the really up and up, and they’re both the same kind of fucked up. That’s why they hate each other so much.”

Complex, assured stories that describe the complications of love and need with perfect pitch.

Pub Date: May 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1495106125

Page Count: 185

Publisher: Rain Mountain Press

Review Posted Online: June 8, 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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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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