FALL

Snappy stylist Maristed (Out After Dark, 1993) shows herself to be a scathing sociologist—if a less than thrilling mystery writer—in this occasionally romantic fictional exposÇ of the world of show jumping. It's a world where hard-as-nails trainers put their teenage riders through a hellish summer on the way to national competition. Unsavory practices in this moneyed culture include doping steeds so they'll perform better, and bumping off highly insured mounts for the money. Lex Healey is a 40ish drifter who's fallen in with this set largely, it seems, because of his practical wardrobe: T-shirts and jeans (good around the paddock). A security man who bumbles more than he protects, Lex has a fling going with the trainer everyone loves to hate, Erica Hablicht, an outsider whose riders have a habit of triumphing against established favorites. It's unclear whether Erica shares Lex's dizzy lovesickness, but she certainly doesn't let her reservations show when they're boffing, which is often. Minor characters—Hispanic grooms, slimy insurance investigators, loudmouth WASP parents, and unscrupulous trainers- -nip around the edges of the plot, but the one Maristed focuses on- -to the tale's detriment—is Ruth Pryor, a former rider crippled in an auto accident. Like a paralyzed Nancy Drew, Ruth motors around the shows in her golf cart, determined both to solve the mystery of several suspicious horse deaths and to learn the identity of the man who crippled her. She emerges as a tragic figure, but her story can't compete with Lex and Erica's more straightforward struggle. Lex is playing detective, too, but his talentless fumblings are clouded by Maristed's tendency to spend more time displaying her vast knowledge of what show jumping is about than in sticking to the mystery. A well-told and sinuously written story, full of flashes of brilliance. But, unfortunately, it deals with such a small sporting universe that it runs the risk of eluding the notice it deserves.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-44409-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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