IN THE COUNTRY OF DESIRE

Twenty-six years after his award-winning debut (The Beasts, 1966), Garrett delivers this grim second novel about incest and its consequences for mother and child. Willa Rhineman, an unschooled, 16-year-old country girl from Pineville, New Jersey, has just buried her grandmother Lydia in the woods and is leaving for the city to look for her long-lost mother Madeleine. It's 1980, but the sonorous prose suggests a time even earlier than 1947, the year Lydia Wier hired Emil Rhineman as her handyman. Emil is a weak, fearful, fitfully charming ladies' man who turns violent when drunk; Lydia is a strong, undemonstrative, religious-minded control freak, determined to tame Emil's ``darkly fluctuant character,'' even if it means marrying him. Their daughter Madeleine is hated by Lydia and adored by Emil, quite innocently at first; but on her 15th birthday, on a day trip to Atlantic City, he deflowers her. When she gives birth to Willa, she will not acknowledge the baby beyond breast-feeding it. Soon after, she gravitates to the city and (having zero self-esteem) to a hip black lover guaranteed to treat her mean; after him comes a Valium habit and a suicide attempt, until she disappears into thin air in 1967. Willa tracks down her mother's old cronies, pathetic Sixties ghosts like the heroin-addicted lesbian pimp Mary Vandel, but finds nothing of her mother except her journal; then, in an idiotic trick ending, she solves the riddle of Madeleine's disappearance and promptly kills herself, getting it right the first time, unlike Emil or Madeleine: game, set, and match to death. Save for a scattering of powerful moments, an unenjoyable and disorienting read, as we are bounced between three time-periods, four principals (all of them victims, according to Garrett's iron determinism), and a variety of influences, ranging from Dreiser early on to a medley of Purdy, West, and Baldwin in the scenes of big-city decadence.

Pub Date: June 17, 1992

ISBN: 0-06-016880-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1992

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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