PICKED-UP PIECES

The old, perhaps toothless saw, that the novelist is not necessarily a good critic any more than the drunk is a good bartender is certainly disproved by three contemporary cases—Sheed, Leonard and especially John Updike who is a reviewer of extraordinary grace, clarity, amiability and of course humor. This collection (more predominantly than his Assorted Prose—1965) consists primarily of his reviews for The New Yorker along with a few of those "assorted" other pieces on meeting writers (Joyce Cary, "a well-knit sandy man," or Thurber and Borges—"blindness and fame and years do island a man"); on the novel in general and writing in particular ("Why write? As soon ask, why rivet?"), a parody or so, etc. Almost never does he indulge in some of the "tendrilous" ornamentation occasionally found in his own novels. The reviews, necessarily, are important or just diverting according to the books in question. Great people bring out the best in Updike and here the pieces make lasting commentaries: Proust's Remembrance of Things Past—which he considers the finest novel for all time—"is, like the Bible, a work of consolation": there are fine discussions of Dostoyevsky, Joyce, the more circumscribed Borges who "reduces everything to a condition of mystery," Nabokov (several reviews), the "best-equipped" writer in the English-speaking world even if Updike found Ada's "nulliverse" as irritating and distracting as we did; and he resists that demanding "superb tyrant" Ivy Compton-Burnett. And in Messed-Up Life, the T. S. Matthews biography of T. S. Eliot, Updike returns Eliot, denigrated here, venerated there, to the immanent power of his work—"a steady force of seriousness, of caustic austerity, engraves [the poetry] on our minds." Updike, as a critic, represents the wisdom of that bon sens populaire—he's never taken in by donnish side (a la Murdoch) or the artifice of all those novelty novelists who recur as theoreticians in disguise. Updike is a Renaissance man of many talents and seasons, reflecting the values which reach us—reality, civilized pleasure, and those recognitions which enlarge the written word.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0449212033

Page Count: 511

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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