WELCOME TO PARADISE

The premise of Shames’s new Florida crime comedy couldn’t be simpler: a vacationing innocent is mistaken for an up-and-coming mobster. New Jersey furniture mogul Moe Kleinman doesn’t know that the Paradise Motel his new travel agent has booked the winner of his annual sales contest into is actually something of a gay nudist colony. Since Alan Tuschman, the big softie who’s been winning these contests almost every year, is not that kind of a guy, his vacation would look less than ideal even if nothing else went wrong. But plenty of other things do go wrong, starting, even before he’s checked into the Paradise, when a pair of hoods named Chop Parilla and Squid Berman misidentify Tuschman as Big Al Marracotta, the diminutive goodfella who’s not only taken over Nicky Scotto’s New York fish market franchise but fed Nicky some clams that violently disagreed with him. Nicky’s too fair to have the guy whacked, but he’s willing to pay Chop and Squid $30,000 to put him through a week of hell in the most fiendishly inventive ways they can. The only obstacles to Tuschman’s escalating nightmare are his equable attitude toward life’s little mishaps, his budding friendship with Big Al’s girlfriend Katy Sansone, and Squid’s unexpected artistic conscience, which won’t let any of his dirty tricks be cheap or easy. Fans will recognize the character types—the good-natured sucker, the under- average-IQ lowlifes, the moll with the heart of gold—from Shames’s earlier Mafia farces (Virgin Heat, 1997, etc.). What they won’t find here are the curlicues of twist and counterplot that make the tiniest oops resound throughout most of his novels like a belch at a funeral. What you see is what you get, and most readers will know long before hapless Tuschman does exactly what’s coming and when. The results are as tartly amusing as ever, but a lot more predictable—a good introduction for newcomers, but a letdown for fans.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-50252-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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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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