A quiet, tender portrait of a literary giant.

THE LAST DAYS OF OSCAR WILDE

The publicly disgraced poet Oscar Wilde deals with the emotional aftermath of scandal.

It is Paris in the fall of 1899. The once-famous and now-infamous Oscar Wilde is two years out of a two-year jail sentence for “gross indecency” with men. Unable to live in England in the wake of the scandal, Wilde has retreated to Paris, and he intuits that he has very little time left to live, though he is only in his mid-40s. In these, the last months of his life, Wilde negotiates a series of complicated relationships with the few loyal friends that remain to him—Robert Ross, an ex-lover who provides Wilde with income; Frank Harris, an Irish magazine man living in the south of France; Maurice Gilbert, Wilde’s soldier-lover; Reggie Turner, a travel companion; and Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, Wilde’s “virtual spouse,” whose father initiated the charges against him and who has also ended up in Paris, seemingly to finish stomping on Wilde’s bruised heart. Wilde bounces around France and occasionally elsewhere in Europe with these men, seizing at moments of pleasure and beauty while also being stricken by the fresh traumas of his past. Vanderslice (Island Fog, 2014, etc.) has tremendous ambition here: not only must he weave a story that essentially has no plot and an inevitable climax in Wilde’s death, he must also put words into the mouth of one of history’s most clever wielders of the bon mot. Vanderslice’s Wilde is not the quippy, theatrical figure a reader might expect. He’s wry and sensitive and selfish, as complex certainly as the real Wilde must have been. And although the book is mostly conversation and little action, readers are still swept along by a desire to see Wilde come to some sort of much-deserved peace.

A quiet, tender portrait of a literary giant.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9964850-9-8

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Burlesque Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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