An engaging tale about the sleazy, aspirational culture of 1970s street fashion.

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MATERIAL THINGS

In this novel, a fashion salesman finds himself caught up in the tendrils of crime and betrayal in Los Angeles.

It’s 1969 and Matthew Street’s marriage has fallen apart, forcing him to crash on Chris Styles’ couch—where he pines after his friend’s Israeli girlfriend and becomes the victim of a home invasion at gunpoint—and then to room with Logan Alexander, an insufferable drunk who lives off his parents’ wealth. The one bright spot in all this is that Matthew’s barbershop has experienced a bump in revenue ever since he started selling stylish shirts in the front window. This gives Matthew an idea: to turn his shop into a clothing boutique aimed at the young, radical generation. As he pitches his idea to Chris, Logan, and a third friend, Jon Lewis, while sitting in a north Hollywood diner, he finds himself getting counter-pitched by a stranger in the next booth. The man works for a company whose “specialty is selling and marketing bell-bottom pants to retailers. He wanted their business when they were ready to move forward with their plan.” How hard can it be to sell pants in LA? Pretty hard, as it turns out, especially when egos, sex, drugs, the Mafia, the FBI, and the chance at a whole lot of money get involved. Spencer’s (The Tipping Point of Oliver Bass, 2017) prose perfectly captures the seedy, hedonistic LA of bygone decades, where everything good or bad seems not only possible, but also inevitable. Matthew is a character who is never quite satisfied, with his arrogance and cynicism shining through even when he means to praise: “He loved her look. She looked healthy, but not athletic-healthy. Like the kind of woman who’d once had an eating disorder and learned the dangers, but there was no way she was about to get fat.” This makes him hard to like, and the author’s attempts to give the story a neat frame do not quite work. Even so, as a Scorsesian tale of bad people in over their heads, the novel effectively provides a rise and fall saga set in a colorful time and place.

An engaging tale about the sleazy, aspirational culture of 1970s street fashion.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-21232-6

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2019

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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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