Unabashedly conventional horror tales with an understated but remarkable lead character.

READ REVIEW

GHOSTLY DEMARCATIONS

STORIES

Taylor’s (Pineapple, 2017, etc.) collection of linked short stories features a recurring protagonist who has a series of spooky encounters.

Kentucky is evidently a hub for spirit activity. At least, that seems to be the case for this book’s narrator, whose real name no character ever utters. In the opening tale, “Galen’s Mountain Child,” he’s only 10 years old when he and his older friend Galen search for a ghost that appears to be periodically calling out for help. In “Hey-hello/hey-goodbye/hey-weep-no-more,” Galen warns the teenage narrator of two high schoolers who had a fatal car accident about 20 years ago on prom night. Since then, 13 kids have died in similar accidents in that same allegedly wraith-cursed spot. The entries in this collection are chronological, unfolding during the 1960s and ’70s. The narrator eventually attends the University of Kentucky and works at the campus bookstore. While at UK, he sees apparitions in the stories “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Louie, Louie and the Blonde Hippie”; in the latter tale, he has the chance to thwart a potential serial killer. Not every story, however, has a ghost. In “Angel’s Wings,” the narrator hears voices on his staticky crystal radio, including Galen’s, who’s currently away in the Navy. Likewise, “Faithful Companion” is a humorous tale of his blind date, which heats up at a dentist’s office after hours. But the comedy is gleefully dark: When the dentist unexpectedly shows up, the narrator must hide in a closet—with a skeleton. Taylor primarily takes the traditional route with his horrorcentric tales. One of the collection’s tales, “The Perfect Ghost Story, Plus One,” addresses narrative tropes in ghost stories. A character lists conventions in a tale she relates to the narrator: “Mine is a legitimate ghost story, complete with doll motif, haunted house…mood, moral, warnings, turning point, and climax.” The author’s book is likewise filled with familiar horror imagery: There’s a string of creepy dolls in “I Am the Egg,” and the narrator investigates a haunted house in “Ms. Sylvia’s Home Cure.” There is, however, occasional repetition, such as several characters’ dying in car wrecks and the narrator’s experiencing plot-turning visions (often of someone who’s dead). But Taylor excels at establishing unnerving moods: At a séance in “Tacete,” the narrator recounts, “The hairs on my neck and forearm did a tiny dance. It was as if a gentle overhead air-conditioning had just started up.” The author’s greatest triumph is his protagonist. Even nameless, the narrator is distinctive. Readers, over the course of the stories, watch him move from a Catholic boarding school to college and endure such adolescent woes as his persistent virginity. Galen is equally diverting: Though his relationships with women rarely last, he has a soft spot for Louie, Louie, the Labrador mix he adopts. Throughout, Taylor has fun avoiding the narrator’s moniker: hobby-shop owner Max Howard of “I am the Egg” sifts through a handful of incorrect names while Sylvia simply calls him Bookstore.

Unabashedly conventional horror tales with an understated but remarkable lead character.

Pub Date: June 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944697-75-4

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more