A funny, gossipy look at a slice of the South through the eyes of an indelible character.

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THE HEADMASTER'S DARLINGS

In this Southern comedy of manners, Clark (Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on this Planet, 2014) explores the world of charismatic, eccentric Assistant Headmaster Norman Laney as he attempts to reshape the cloistered world of high-society Alabama from within.

A hugely overweight arts aficionado with a blue-collar background, Laney is an anomaly in the upper-crust community of 1980s Mountain Brook, an all-white suburb of Birmingham, insulated from the turmoil of the post–civil rights era by wealth and tradition. Laney’s mission at the private Brook-Haven School is to infuse some of the outside world back into Mountain Brook by launching the children of the elite into the Ivy League, or at least making them familiar with the work of Jackson Pollock. Though he’s adored by his students and the country-club set alike, Laney faces one major foe: Tommy Turbyfill, the headmaster, who's intent on pushing him out of the school for a mysterious violation. Clark uses her considerable skill to enliven Laney’s attempts to hold on to his position while simultaneously navigating the minefields of dinner parties, gallery openings, and parent-teacher conferences. Laney is based on Clark’s own high school headmaster, and her blow-by-blow descriptions of the mechanics of the school, and of Mountain Brook in general, sometimes make the book read like a meandering cocktail-party story. But when she gets the pacing right, it becomes an insider's guide to the drama of the debutante set and a perceptive look at the growing pains of a community attempting to change its deeply entrenched ways.

A funny, gossipy look at a slice of the South through the eyes of an indelible character.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61117-538-7

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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