THE AFTERLIFE OF GEORGE CARTWRIGHT

George Cartwright—a little-known 18th-century explorer, trapper, and author of A Journal of Transactions and Events During a Residency of Nearly Sixteen Years on the Coast of Labrador—died of old age at home in England in May 1819. In a stunningly rich and delicate first novel, Canadian poet Steffler posits and follows Cartwright's ghost of 170 years as it wanders the English roads in the spring of his death and reflects on a passionate life gone oddly awry at every turn. For Steffler's Cartwright—one of ten children raised by a country squire—the purpose of life itself became the pristine, powerful, perilous wilderness that he was among the first Englishmen to visit in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 1770's. Having hired ships and crew, Cartwright planned to collect furs and other bounty and return home a rich man. Instead, he fell in love with the rivers and forests, the hunting, trapping, and fishing, and the native peoples of the mountainous Labrador coast. But he couldn't build a life: The punishing winters killed his crews, fires burned his storehouses, and the ships he hired for return trips were lost or damaged. In one heartrending series of mishaps, the beloved Eskimos Cartwright brings to London as cynical inducements to his creditors to be lenient contract smallpox; they die horrible deaths on the journey back and spread the pestilence to the New World. Finally, pirates invade Cartwright's renewed stocks of furs, his workers mutiny, and even his loyal, stalwart English mistress rebels against his self-absorption, and Cartwright, bewildered, returns to England. There, he becomes a florid, tale-telling barracks-master. Steffler, however, lovingly gives him a second life—one in which, as he wanders alone through the perpetual English spring of his youth, he is permitted to discover his intentions and his mistakes and finally to die nobly, as he might have done in Labrador. Based in part on Cartwright's Journal, a keen, richly hued, and utterly enchanting imaginative reconstruction of a life.

Pub Date: May 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2462-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1993

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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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