HAZARD ZONES

The second (after Light in the Company of Women, 1994, not reviewed) in Canadian novelist Maillard's Raysburg trilogy, a series chronicling in sharp detail the clouded history and slow redemption of an unhappy child. Although the boy under consideration has been happily settled on the shores of middle age for some time before we meet him, it is obvious nevertheless that he is struggling with an unsettled past. Larry Cameron is a Boston publisher and failed geographer whose academic interest in hazard zones—that is, disaster areas— provides some clues about his own past, which was played out largely in the flood region of Raysburg, West Virginia. After a long absence, Larry is now going home for his mother's funeral, and he brings his wife Cynthia along for the ride: ``Cynthia's heard plenty about the Ohio Valley, but she's never seen it, and this unexpected chance to show it to her makes me oddly happy. Now I can't remember why I've always been so reluctant to take her to Raysburg.'' Like Larry, Cynthia never managed to complete her doctoral dissertation, but hers was in literature rather than geography—and happened to center on an obscure 19th-century novelist who lived in the small Ohio town of Massilon, only a few miles from Raysburg. As Larry arranges the funeral and looks up old friends, we glimpse the shadows of his past—his alcoholic father, his doomed younger brother, his own youthful inability to find an object for his ambitions—that drove him from Raysburg in the first place. Although—as with most trilogies—the focus is loose here, with no obvious climax or destination, the slow but continuous revelation of Larry's own past is insistent and compelling enough to draw us in, and the pattern of that same history is intricate enough to beg questions that can't be answered in one book. Graceful and fluid: A marvelous excursion into the confines of a fully realized human soul.

Pub Date: June 21, 1996

ISBN: 0-00-224397-0

Page Count: 218

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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