Hunt keeps the pace brisk and inserts some new feminist twists into the genre of the Civil War odyssey.

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A novel that takes us there and back again, “there” being the Civil War and back again, a farm in Indiana.

Constance “Ash” Thompson and her husband, Bartholomew, are a young couple with a farm, though their roles are a bit inverted, for Ash is fearless and a crack shot while Bartholomew has bad vision and is much more timid. Ash feels strongly about supporting the Union cause, but one of them has to stay home and tend the crops and animals, so Ash enlists and passes for a male soldier. She narrates her adventures crisply and matter-of-factly as she goes through her slapdash basic training and soon finds herself at the Battle of Antietam. She becomes expert in carrying off her role as a man, spitting and cursing with the boys but also showing herself invaluable as a marksman (even when this only involves foraging for squirrels to make a stew). Eventually, Ash is betrayed by someone she thought she could trust, and she finds the battle is not the most difficult challenge she faces, for rumor has it that a “whore from Chattanooga” has been dressing up as a man and infiltrating Union lines. When she persuades an officer that she’s neither a whore nor a spy, she’s incarcerated in an asylum, for it’s concluded that lunacy is the only other possible cause for her cross-dressing. After suffering abundant humiliations at the hands of a female “keeper,” Ash cleverly (and ironically) escapes by switching clothes with a Union guard. By this time, she’s determined to get home to Bartholomew—and she does—only to find that some local thugs have taken over the farm. Of course, she vows vengeance, though this revenge is exacted in a way that leads to tragedy. While comparisons to Cold Mountain are inevitable, Ash’s journey has its own integrity. 

Hunt keeps the pace brisk and inserts some new feminist twists into the genre of the Civil War odyssey.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-97013-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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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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