An entertaining, unusual mix of the caper novel with dashes of comedy, romance, and spirituality.

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STEALING SHIVA

In this comic novel, a young con woman plans to steal from a spiritual community but instead finds herself wanting to join their search for truth.

Having run out of money three years ago, Jessabelle Knox wants to return to art school to finish her degree in special makeup effects. Her parents are out of the picture; she now runs confidence games with her uncle Trix, using carefully crafted disguises to better scam the greedy. Though the money’s good, it all seems to get eaten up in expenses, so art school is looking further away than ever. Then they stumble upon a big score: a spiritual community that’s home to a $3 million gold statue. Trix proposes that she join up in disguise so they can steal the Shiva statue. But stealing from a guru? “It sounds so grubby,” Jessabelle says. Despite Trix’s reassurances—“Everybody knows gurus are the biggest con artists around,” he says—Jessabelle’s love of illusion, and an overwhelming desire for art school, Jessabelle soon questions her mission. She likes the residents of Lalliville, is deeply impressed by the guru Lalli, and, through meditation, discovers within herself a longing for truth: “She wanted the luxury of being the same person with everyone.” As Jessabelle develops deeper links with the community, she’ll have to decide where her truest loyalty lies. In her debut novel, Ortner nicely balances comedy with romance—Jessabelle falls for a Lalliville member—and serious spiritual practice. Jessabelle’s awakening may not resonate with skeptical readers, but Ortner describes it vividly; for example: “She felt this intensified love for the trees, the grass, the sky, the clouds, and every other thing she saw, including the Dumpster behind the dining hall.” Convincing details of Jessabelle’s artistry with makeup effects help establish her character, and Ortner interestingly complicates this issue when the wise Lalli questions a simple truth-vs.-illusion formula: “…being a liar and a fraud is one of your best qualities,” she tells Jessabelle. The ending wraps things up a bit too neatly, but it’s still a satisfying read.

An entertaining, unusual mix of the caper novel with dashes of comedy, romance, and spirituality.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-986-35261-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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