DUCK ALLEY

A second from DeFilippi has parallels with his considerably stronger Blood Sugar (1992), but too much in plot flies off with too little in substantive atmosphere or theme to act as ballast. Narrator Jay Tasti opens up with a ramble through plentifully familiar boyhood memories of growing up on Duck Alley, Long Island. Recalling the happy summertime of his youth in the “50s, Tasti summons Coke bottles, friendly drunks, fussy moms, baseball games on the radio and harmless pranks. Back then, see, Tasti was real tight with Albert Niklozak, and, man, did they do some crazy stuff. Well. Then comes the draft. Albert gets sent to Nam (and strangely never speaks of it), while Tasti stays comfy with a stateside role. Tasti muffles his mixed feelings, becomes a high-school teacher, and marries. Albert becomes a small-time hood dealing in fenced goods and prostitutes. As for his life in education, Tasti recalls, oh, if there only hadn’t been Arlynn Svenson . . . . Arlynn, the cartoonishly drawn high-school sex siren with a troubled mind, finds teacher Tasti on the beach during a field trip, bares her breasts to him, and actually says “jiggle, jiggle.” Though Tasti takes a hundred pages to not touch her breasts, Arlynn, while literally flopping around in the hall and driving everyone nuts, claims Tasti got her pregnant. Blow her off? Advise therapy? Nah, do the sensible thing, and get Albert to silence her. It seems Albert does what he’s asked, gets caught, sent to jail, then killed in a knife fight. Only after all that does Tasti discover that Albert never murdered the girl—but held his tongue for the honor of friendship, which Tasti grieves to have forgotten. The depth of Tasti’s spiritual agony is doubtless meant to be profound, but the story just doesn—t make it real, with the result that the profound and the inane are at loggerheads.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-57962-024-8

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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