A sure-handed narrative led by a hapless but resilient adventurer.

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Problems of Translation

OR CHARLIE'S COMIC, TERRIFYING, ROMANTIC, LOOPY ROUND-THE-WORLD JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF LINGUISTIC HAPPINESS

High jinks ensue in this picaresque novel when an author sets out ’round the world to shepherd his short story through several translations.

Novelist Story introduces readers to middle-aged Charles Abel Baker, who, like Story, is a writer and former professor of Russian history. Bored and stuck in his life, Charles desperately needs a project, an adventure. He decides to take a short story and have it translated through 10 different languages, then back into English to see whether at the end, à la a game of Telephone, it is even remotely like the original. He tries to interest high-powered publisher Derek Wainscot in the project and is rebuffed. But then Wainscot steals the idea himself, and that means deploying shady operatives to follow Charles and frustrate his plans whenever possible. But an old friend of Charles’, Jonathan Belknap, a retired CIA agent, smells a rat and deploys his own crew against Wainscot’s. The result is a merry, yearlong chase around the globe. Early on, Charles meets Svetlana Novgorodtseva, and love blossoms, fades, blossoms again. An unlikely adventurer, Charles gets out of one impossibly tight spot after another, sometimes by his own devices, sometimes thanks to Belknap’s long arm. There is more, much more, and it moves fast. Story is impressively inventive, and though this yarn is a zany one sure to induce a few grins, it’s not quite a gut-busting affair, especially when, for instance, a drug lord makes a point by executing a young kid in front of Charles. That hardly rates a guffaw. Still, the amusing spy-vs.-spy business involves old hands with handles like “Pig” and “Smilin’ Jack,” and Story is adept at the quick surprise and the odd plot twist. Short and punchy chapters feature background rumination about the beauty of words and the mysteries of translations.

A sure-handed narrative led by a hapless but resilient adventurer.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0986238208

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Blue Mile Books

Review Posted Online: June 2, 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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