Grodstein’s collection (The Best of Animals, 2002) showed she had yet to find her voice, something still the case with her...

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REPRODUCTION IS THE FLAW OF LOVE

One rainy night in Brooklyn, a youngish woman asks her live-in boyfriend to fetch a pregnancy test from the drugstore. Some banter ensues. Are we in for a comic novel with serious overtones, or a serious novel with a comic edge?

Actually, neither one, and that’s the problem. Boyfriend Miller dutifully trots off to the drugstore, but we don’t find out until the end whether Lisa is pregnant; in the interim, we meander through Miller’s life, as boy and man (someone should send the author to the plot store), in a tone that’s fitfully comic. Grodstein likes drawing up fun lists as much as Letterman, though hers are shorter. (Sample: in Miller’s life, “Some Close Calls So Far.”) Yet there’s nothing that funny about his parents’ divorce when Miller is 14. His father, Stan, is a pharmaceuticals salesman and takes long business trips that send his wife, Bay, into fits of weeping. They divorce, and Miller chooses to stay with his mother, who continues to mope while Miller wets his bed. All this is more pathetic than funny. The big event in Miller’s life comes when he meets Blair Carter. By now he’s in his mid-20s, living in Queens, working for a dot-com. Blair is cute as a button and lives with her father on Park Avenue; she also works for him but, curiously, none of her friends have met him. Miller falls for Blair big-time. Why she would fall for this chain-smoking slob is as mysterious as her father’s whereabouts, and she does eventually dump him (“you loved me too much”). Not to worry. Soon Lisa will pick him up on line in a Krispy Kreme and make room for him in her Brooklyn place, though Miller realizes (back to the beginning) that he doesn’t love her enough to bring up a baby with her.

Grodstein’s collection (The Best of Animals, 2002) showed she had yet to find her voice, something still the case with her first novel.

Pub Date: July 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-33770-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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