Still, in spite of false notes and some psychological thinness, Thornton does manage to bring back Conrad, his London, his...



Thornton (Tales from the Blue Archives, 1997, etc.) tries hard to re-evoke the life and times of the Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad (1857–1924).

Non-Conradians may feel rather left out here, so thoroughly steeped in the great author’s life and novels is Thornton’s ingeniously attempted literary tour de force. His own narrator, the Englishman Jack Malone, actually (that is, fictionally) knew Joseph Conrad over a period of years, and, with other friends, enjoyed evenings of conversation and tale-telling on the deck of the sailing boat Nellie, anchored in the Thames. Many will immediately recall Heart of Darkness, where the tale is told on that very same Nellie’s deck, spun out then, however, not by a man named Malone but by the famous Conradian narrator-character Marlowe, who “tells” the story. Like Conrad, Thornton even goes so far as to nest one narrative inside another, so that inside the tale that Malone-Marlowe tells us (he writes it in 1930, remembering back to 1924), we find Conrad in turn telling a tale to Malone-Marlowe. Conrad’s tale is the best one, about a WWI minesweeper: After sinking a German sub, the English captain heinously betrays his command, out of personal spite, and lets the German sailors drown. The tale, with its Lord Jim parallels, will be interwoven throughout Malone-Marlowe’s later narrative, but not always convincingly. Malone’s tale has largely to do with his belated discovery that Conrad had indeed turned him into a narrator and had “used,” in his novels, the stories Malone told on the Nellie. Malone’s discomfiture rings thinly at best for a reader today—what’s wrong with being made a character? And Conrad’s own discomfiture—afraid that if people learn that there was a “real” Marlowe, he’ll be accused of having “cheated” by using hand-me-down stories—brings even more incredulity.

Still, in spite of false notes and some psychological thinness, Thornton does manage to bring back Conrad, his London, his Thames, and even his dangerous but beautiful South China Sea. (N.B.: A feature film of Thornton’s 1987 debut, Imagining Argentina, is scheduled for release this September.)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-6007-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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.


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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