AYACUCHO, GOODBYE and MOSCOW'S GOLD

TWO NOVELLAS

In these two Peruvian allegories, Ortega tries to use caustic humor to convey a nation haunted by government repression, daily terrorism, and communism—but fails when every joke falls flat. The first novella, ``Ayacucho, Goodbye,'' focuses on the plight of a young campesino leader named Alfredo C†nepa. In order to halt his involvement in the socialist peasant uprising, the government publicly accuses him of being a Red terrorist, tortures him, throws him into a ravine, blows his limbs off one at a time with grenades, and buries him in an unmarked grave. But C†nepa can't rest without a proper Christian burial, and that can't happen because so many body parts got lost in the excitement. So the dead man gathers himself up (at least, what's left) and makes for Lima to collect the bones that remain in police custody. He meets lots of people along the way, including fellow reformers who complain (``You're not dead and you're not alive. In the revolutionary struggle there's no room for centrists'') and some cocaine dealers who force him to become a carrier (``You only have one choice...and it's the choice this country faces too: either get rich or die right now''). Readers root for C†nepa in his struggle to reach his final resting place—but less because he deserves it and more because it means an end to the painful dialogue. Fortunately, the next novella, ``Moscow's Gold,'' proves less irritating. Here, a high school student suffers when his best friend Alberto reveals he's a Communist. The narrator wants to think Alberto has been brainwashed and tries to focus on the things they have in common (writing, books, and women), but during high school military training, when the two find themselves on opposite teams, the narrator's true animosity surfaces. Ortega's heavy-handed approach and obsession with satire overshadows these potentially powerful narratives.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-935480-66-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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