A rambling and lackluster second effort by Shepherd (Henry’s List of Wrongs, 2002), fleshed out with predictable situations...

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THE DEAD FATHER’S GUIDE TO SEX & MARRIAGE

An unexciting midwestern version of All the King’s Men follows a young man’s struggle to uncover (and conceal) the shady truths about his dead father.

Cleveland has its fair share of shady grafters in City Hall—and Joe Way should know. His father, Joseph Sr. is the mayor, and Joe Jr. is helping Dad fight off challenger Lester Ratcovic in one of the sleaziest municipal campaigns since Richard Daley went on to his great reward. A onetime college football star who got his start in politics by setting up a new Browns franchise in Cleveland, Joe Jr. is Assistant DA and heir presumptive to the Way dynasty. He is also a self-righteous prig keenly sensitive to the failings of others and not above playing dirty when it suits his purposes. When a teenaged girl comes to him with a story of how she was sexually harassed by Ratcovic, Joe urges her to go public with her tale—and to conceal the fact that they ever met. The uproar that ensues kills Ratcovic’s campaign and erupts into full-blown scandal when the girl is found beaten to death. Does Joe have any regrets? Not at first—until he discovers that his father has been conducting a longtime affair behind his mother’s back. As if that weren’t shock enough, Joe’s father dies the very day after Joe catches him in flagrante delicto. Joe narrates his story into a tape recorder as he desperately rehearses the eulogy he’ll have to deliver at the funeral. As he struggles to make sense of his father’s life, he is helped by an older brother who has recently come out of the closet and an ex-girlfriend who works for a left-wing paper that was investigating Joe’s father. Which is better, ignorance or disillusion?

A rambling and lackluster second effort by Shepherd (Henry’s List of Wrongs, 2002), fleshed out with predictable situations and two-dimensional characters: feels flat and formulaic.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7434-6626-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Downtown Press/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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