WHAT I LIVED FOR

A pulsating portrait of the American fin-de-siecle, as immediate and unsettling as your morning newspaper, but more compulsively readable. Oates's (Black Water, 1992, etc.) darkly comic work — set against a background of industrial decline, urban decay, racial strife, and political corruption — is permeated by death, from its opening page, when Timothy Corcoran is gunned down in front of his house on Christmas Eve 1959, to the apparent suicide 32 years later of Marilee Plummet, a young black woman who has charged a radical black Union City, NY, councilman with rape. Oates sucks us into the flood-of-consciousness, the whirling vortex that is the mind of Tim's son, Jerome Andrew "Corky" Corcoran, on Memorial Day weekend 1992. Now 43, what does he think about, what does he live for? Sex, food, sex, drink, sex — anything to obliterate the memory of his father's bloody corpse, his mother's subsequent madness, his loneliness, his sense of impending doom. "Oh, Christ, he's happy, never so happy as at such a time, lips, tongue, teeth, fingers, his cock erect and bobbing...pure sensation and no memory of Jerome Corcoran now." Corky has hauled himself up from Union City's low-rent Irish Hill to become a successful real estate developer and city councilman. He is filled at once with vanity and self-loathing, proud of his $35,000 Caddy, his upper-crust ex-wife and equally upper-crust mistress. Yet, paranoid, he fears each smile from one of his friends is really a smirk of derision. Corky is not the best of men: He's just slapped his mistress around. Neither is he the worst of men: "In weakened states he tends to speak from the heart." His investments are turning sour; his ex-father-in-law and mentor has just refused him financial help; his rebellious stepdaughter has stolen the Luger automatic from his bedside drawer. This weekend will bring Corky the truth — about the corruption behind his father's death and the corruption of his own political friends. A moment of dignity will be within his grasp. Will he reach for it before it's too late? This question drives Oates's dazzling novel, brilliant both stylistically and in its depiction of a man running desperately for his life.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-525-93836-2

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1994

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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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