OUR KIND OF PEOPLE

THE STORY OF AN AMERICAN FAMILY

Leisurely paced and earnestly revealing, this proper, well-proportioned book memorializes the Yardleys, the author's own family, re-creating the family history by drawing on personal memory and the extensive contents of a file his parents kept for 50 years. Yardley's father Bill was a girls' school headmaster who studied for the ministry to further his academic career; crusty, disciplined, and well-mannered, he had aristocratic pretensions but also cared deeply about books and the girls of Chatham Hall. Helen, the author's mother, was in Bennington's first graduating class; marrying soon after, she apparently shelved plans for an art career to become the headmaster's wife and raise four children, acknowledging some bitterness over the choice only late in life. The two shared a love of fine things—some pieces of furniture seem like beloved members of the family—and a continuing recognition of their silver-plated circumstances: never having quite enough money, beholden to people who had much more. Yardley justly likens them, especially his father's clan, to "characters from a Marquand novel," for in their aspirations and pretenses, their coded public behaviors and more relaxed private styles, their strongly expressed convictions and old prejudices, they indeed resemble that novelist's genteel WASP creations. Appreciating the subtleties and contradictions in their personalities, Yardley is able to separate small posturings and tiresome quirks from true qualities of character, all the while remembering his own unique position here—an insider trading on family stock. Traces of his varied legacy are apparent in his handling of certain subjects, such as sickness or divorce, as well as in the sure cadences of his formal, fluent prose. Although much of this narrative is diverting—the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic (1981) deftly captures habits and attitudes—it has weaknesses that even his kind of people won't value: too much emphasis on school rituals and the family finances especially. As a record of a particular way of life, however, it is both faithful and emblematic.

Pub Date: March 1, 1989

ISBN: 1-55584-174-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

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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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