PINBALL

Like Passion Play (1979), this enervating novel suggests that Kosinski has reached a creative dead end: recycling his familiar themes and situations, but without the stylish starkness or the sense of danger in his genuinely disturbing early work. And this time there are two alter-egos to embody Kosinski's artistic and sexual preoccupations instead of the usual one—both of them composers. Patrick Domostroy is a serious, once-famous music man suffering from "composer's block"; so now he plays for singers at "a pinball joint that tries to pass for a nightclub" in the Bronx—and, conforming to Kosinski cliche, he rejoices "at being able to follow his own ethical code of moral responsibility." (I.e., sex clubs like Plato's Retreat are okay.) But Domostroy's zonked-out life will change when sexy music-student/groupie Andrea moves in and persuades him to aid her in her obsessive quest: she yearns to uncover the real identity of "Goddard," the biggest recording star in rock history, whose face and name are a super-secret. Their plan? To send Goddard an incredibly smart, simpatico fan letter (and, later, nude pix of Andrea's torso) that will compel Goddard to track Andrea down. And, as it happens, Goddard reacts exactly as they hope and has little trouble tracking Andrea down because: a) Goddard, unbeknownst to the whole world, is really mild-mannered Jimmy Osten—the son of a respected classical-music-records executive (thus a Domostroy acquaintance); and b) Osten's black-pianist girlfriend Donna happens to be in Andrea's class at Juilliard. Soon, then, while the wearying coincidences pile up, the two couples cross paths, switching sexual partners (piano-bench copulation for Donna and Domostroy). And there's some final carnage when Andrea's secret motive for wanting to unmask Goddard is revealed. Still, as implausibly contrived as this feeble plot may be, it's the best thing about the novel, generating at least a speck of suspense and irony. Far worse are the lazy, pretentious textures which fill out the story: flashbacks through the characters' predictably kinky sex lives; Osten's and Domostroy's banal soul-searchings (lots of "innermost feelings," "innermost vortex of his psyche," and "true emotional destiny"); extraneous anecdotes (including a barely fictionalized retelling of the Jack Henry Abbott affair); self-indulgent material about record executives Goddard Lieberson and Boris Pregel, to whose memory the novel is dedicated; and the musical detailing, which, though hard-working, is stiffly unevocative. In short: Kosinski's weakest work yet, with some merchandisable sleaze and glitter here and there, but essentially as dreary as it is empty.

Pub Date: March 1, 1982

ISBN: 0802134823

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1982

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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