THE WAYWARD BUS

Evidently even John Steinbeck "takes a walk" now and then. This is it. We hope he doesn't continue to walk downhill. For here is a book that will inevitably be a bitter disappointment to those who have put John Steinbeck at the top of the roster of American writers today. Always before his bums, his down and outers, his "under-privileged", his Okies, his itinerant workers, his drifters have invoked a certain magnetic fascination rootet in the sheer love of their creator for his creations. Some have accused Steinbeck of being sentimental about his people. Nobody could accuse him of being sentimental about any of the unprepossessing aggregation of unpleasing humanity brought together at a wayside safe from which a short line bus operates. There's the proprietor, driver of the bus, Juan- least objectionable, perhaps, and warmed by a spirit of charity. There's his temperamental, possessive and violent wife, Alice, who takes out her spleen on all and sundry, with flies and the downtrodden hired girl, Norma, as chief victims. There's Pimples-most unpalatable of adolescents, who is a mechanic of sorts, sex ridden and depraved. And then there are the passengers held over while the bus is repaired- an unsavory lot, from the Pritchads, who hated each other but tried to put up a front as a united family, to the salesman with a suitcase full of rather morbidly unpleasant tricks, and the girl whose sex lure provided the flash which set off the latent dynamite. The story is a slight one, and rarely does it emerge from the mire of fleshly obsession, the mark of language and motives and concentration on the physical. A thoroughly distasteful and unpleasant book, unredeemed by the flash- the spark that to most justified anything John Steinbeck wrote. Because what he does well, he does so extraordinarily well, it is all the more appalling when he descends to the depths of vulgarity.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1946

ISBN: 0142437875

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1946

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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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