SLEEPWALKING

In this British debut, a convincing character has an unconvincing affair. The gimmick: Said character is very pregnant. Presumably intended to be shocking, the scenes of narrator Susan's pregnant extramarital sex are on the whole less accomplished than her imaginings of her cruel father's own unhappy upbringing. The novel opens just after her father has gassed himself to death with carbon monoxide and, as a final divisive act, left his entire inheritance to daughter Penny, excluding her sisters, Susan and Sara. Susan, it becomes clear, has been moving somnolently through life with her dunderhead husband, Alistair, and only when she is close to giving birth does she come alive, through an affair with an American artist named Lenny. At the same time, she begins to have visions of the ghost of a small boy wandering through her London home. He turns out to be her father, who had suffered at the hands of his mother, a bizarre woman who once maliciously served Susan and her sisters pancakes with pins in them. These glimpses of the past are the strongest sections here, even though they occasionally go too far and make the characters unpalatable rather than interestingly gruesome. Other passages are less successful. A description of how Susan finds Alistair's solidity comforting during their courtship is sharp with detail, nicely revealing how her father's strange ways have conditioned her, but her accidental pregnancy is dismissed in a sentence: ``And that was it, the end of freedom and choice.'' Likewise, the cuckolded Alistair and the slightly pretentious Lenny are colorless compared to Susan's father and grandmother. The choppy structure serves the subject well, however. Although her narration is intensely self-focused, Susan never becomes whiny or self-pitying about her dismal existence, and Myerson's depiction of her pregnancy is full of lifelike discomfort. Patchy, but more successful than most takes on dysfunctional family life (and afterlife). (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-47506-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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