An essayistic and hollow hipster tale.

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EAST OF PORTLAND

A fictionalized autobiography presents the life of a rootless American millennial.

The narrator of Gentry’s novel is unnamed, although he claims that gentrification “was literally named after me.” He’s a self-described “party boy with an MFA who might or might not be insufferably intellectual.” Although he’s originally from Portland, Oregon, he doesn’t live there anymore—a fact that he says is unfathomable to other millennials, who see it as a hipster mecca. The seasoned barista lived there during what he calls “its world-historical, trend-setting moment” in the 2000s, but he feared that he would never grow up if he remained. He leaves his hometown in 2015, embarking on a road trip across America. He eventually settles in a potential Portland-of-the-East: Providence, Rhode Island. He gets a job in a cafe, but he finds New England to be cold and strange. He goes to New York City to look for a job in corporate communications—he decides he might be ready for the “hustle”—but ends up with an interview in Atlanta, leading to another long road trip. As he travels, he goes on Tinder dates and makes observations about the millennial experience in America, the rise of Donald Trump, and the metaphorical resonance of the Star Wars and Jurassic Park film franchises. Gentry’s topic—the conflicting privileges and scarcities that define his own generation—is a worthy one, and he manages to touch on some major issues. Unfortunately, the narrator is a seemingly unironic caricature of millennial stereotypes. The prose can be distractingly overwrought: “During my time in the MFA program I ogled existential richness as a jester in the palace of learning, at the cost of accrued loans and the frustrations of sputtering professionalization.” The narrator sometimes sounds like a character in a Portlandia sketch (a show that he says “landed the death blow to a reeling, altruistic Portland”), with gems such as, “For me, Voodoo [Doughnut, a famous Portland shop] was a depot on the journey of teenage self-discovery, not a national chain or tourist trap.” In the end, although the novel apparently aims to say something meaningful, it doesn’t quite do so.

An essayistic and hollow hipster tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9997715-1-8

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Fox Point Books

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2019

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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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