Profound it ain’t, but immensely readable and very charming in its own messy, undisciplined way.

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THE OWL AND MOON CAFÉ

Four generations of strong-minded women battle each other, their individual insecurities and life’s many ups and downs in this overstuffed latest from Mapson (Goodbye, Earl, 2004, etc.).

The author gives her characters plenty of obstacles to overcome before the mostly happy ending. When we meet Mariah Moon, inching along in traffic on California’s Highway One, she’s just lost her job as assistant sociology professor at a local college. How will she pay for that fancy school attended by her brilliant 12-year-old daughter Lindsay? Waitressing at the Owl & Moon, her family’s Pacific Grove restaurant, is the short-term solution, but it means dealing with her cranky, ultra-religious grandmother, Gammy, and her maddening mother, Allegra. Mariah is mortified by Allegra still dressing and acting like a hippie chick at nearly 50, and she’s never forgiven her mother for refusing to identify the man who begot her 34 years ago. (Mariah at least told Lindsay the name of her absent father, even if the girl’s never met him.) Not to worry: When Allegra has a fainting spell that sends her to the hospital, the doctor who hands her a diagnosis of leukemia is none other than Alvin Goodnough, the Vietnam vet en route to med school with whom she shared a sleeping bag back in the Summer of Love. Will they finally get together for keeps? Can Mariah get over her eternal adolescent snit with the help of a handsome Scottish customer at the café? Will Lindsay’s science project win her a scholarship, or land her in jail? Mapson’s plotting is as over-the-top as it was in the Bad Girl Creek trilogy—Phoebe DeThomas’s daughter Sally turns up from that series to befriend Lindsay—and the twists are often blindingly obvious, poorly motivated, or both. What saves the story is the characters: broadly drawn, but utterly human, full of querulous life and irritatingly believable. The author loves the people she creates and draws in readers to share her affection.

Profound it ain’t, but immensely readable and very charming in its own messy, undisciplined way.

Pub Date: July 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-6641-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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