DARKNESS AND A LITTLE LIGHT

Short, allegorical, and deceptively simple stories that make use of the author's experiences as a displaced person. Bobrowski (Shadow Lands: Selected Poems, not reviewed) has a mixed Lithuanian, Prussian, Polish, and German heritage; part Jewish yet devoted to the Lutheran church, he was a Russian POW during WW II. It's impossible to read these tales (often only two or three pages long) without keeping the writer's heritage in mind. Because so little was familiar when Bobrowski returned to his devastated homeland in 1949, he seems to have set about imagining what took place in his absence. ``I have begun another life,'' states the nameless narrator of ``That Was Really The End,'' with a hint of regret but in no uncertain terms. In the title story, men sitting in a bar speak of friends attempting to regain lost objects or positions: ``Supposed to mean something but it's just plain ridiculous.'' This is the point of view from which each tale begins, but in Bobrowski's hands the ridiculous is twisted, turned, and shoved into grave meaning. He focuses not on catastrophes, but on private moments. Ordinary people, often through no fault of their own, find their lives excessively burdened. In ``Mouse Feast,'' a Jewish shopkeeper throwing a crust of bread to the mice is suddenly confronted by a German soldier. In ``Interior'' three people in a room have but a few meaningless words for each other, while an elaborately described grandfather clock becomes a ticking bomb. Two longer stories (``Darkness and a Little Light'' and ``Boehlendorff'') use the cryptic style that works so well for the shorter pieces to lesser effect: Darting back and forth in time—here a name change, there a shift in occupation—they are guaranteed to send readers flipping back through the pages, trying to remember who was who. Good things come in small packages.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 1994

ISBN: 0-8112-1259-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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