THE INVISIBLE CIRCUS

This sensitive debut novel puts theme before function in portraying the post-Boomer generation's nostalgia for the '60s they just missed out on. In 1978, 18-year-old Phoebe O'Connor is still haunted by the mysterious death, termed a suicide in 1970, of her hippie teenage sister Faith in Italy. Newly graduated Phoebe is feeling restless at home in San Francisco after discovering that her widowed mother is romantically involved with her boss. Phoebe's further horrified when her mother insists that her father, a would-be painter whose day job was being an IBM executive, had no talent. She spontaneously takes off for Europe to retrace Faith's steps in the days leading up to her death. Egan (whose stories have appeared in major magazines) takes a long time setting all this up, and in order to get the background in place, she often makes matters too convenient. It seems unlikely that an old friend of Faith's would run into Phoebe, recognize her (because of her resemblance to her sister), invite her to his apartment, talk about her sister, and then hand her a joint to deliver to his cousin in Munich. Later, when Phoebe arrives in Munich, there is a coincidence so huge and unbelievable that it almost destroys the earnest heart of this book. On the other hand, Egan does some fine writing. Descriptions of Amsterdam and London are so accurate they are almost tactile, and Phoebe's disappointment in finding that things are no longer quite so groovy as they used to be anywhere in the world is convincing. Eventually, she gets to the locus of Faith's despair and learns how the ideals of the '60s disintegrated. All of this is logical, but Egan has clearly set out to depict an entire generation rather than to tell a story. For example, Phoebe's brother is a 23-year-old millionaire with his own software company who exists only to show the alternative to the counterculture. Covers a lot of ground but sometimes stumbles. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-47379-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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