An appealing, colorful picture of life in ethnic, blue-collar New York during the mid-20th century.

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THE SISTERS MALLONE

UNA STORIA DI FAMIGLIA

InStyle reporter and Kirkus reviewer Ermelino (The Black Madonna, 2001) spins an old-fashioned tale about family solidarity and a cheating man who gets his just deserts. Mary, Helen, and Gracie Mallone were raised by grandmother Anona on the Irish West Side of New York in the 1920s and ’30s. Anona’s husband changed his name from Malloni to get work on the Irish-controlled piers before succumbing to the flu epidemic of 1918 that also killed the sisters’ father, mother, and baby brother. The siblings grow up independent and feisty, free from the constraints imposed on girls downtown in Little Italy. Helen and Mary quickly quit school and run with a gang of kids, often dressing in boys’ clothes, but when Helen is arrested, 13-year-old Mary dolls herself up and solicits the help of much-older Nick Andersen, a lieutenant of mobster Owney Madden. Nick later marries Mary; Helen, after quickly losing a drunken husband, settles into life as a good-time gal who enjoys the companionship of men and an occasional woman from the Village’s shadier bars. But quieter youngest sister Gracie falls in love and marries Frankie Merelli, a good-looking, smooth-talking ne’er-do-well who spends his evenings drinking, gambling, and playing around with cigarette girls; meanwhile, his wife irons his shirts and raises their son Charlie. Anona keens over it all, lighting endless candles to her statue of St. Rita and belting down anisette as the narrative moves between Frankie’s death in 1953 and the sisters’ early years.

An appealing, colorful picture of life in ethnic, blue-collar New York during the mid-20th century.

Pub Date: June 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-2333-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2002

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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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