Like the best Broadway musicals—revels in bigger-than-life moments and is filled with just enough sadness and truth.

SERENDIPITY

Shaffer, author of southern-fried charmers (Family Acts, 2007, etc.), is at her best here with a multigenerational saga set amid the bright lights of Broadway.

When Rose Manning dies, all of philanthropic Manhattan shows up for her funeral. But daughter Carrie realizes the eulogies praise Rose the humanitarian, leaving Rose the human a mystery—even to Carrie. While still a baby, Carrie’s family fell apart: Her father, boy-genius Broadway composer Bobby Manning, died; Rose broke all ties with her mother Lu Lawson (musical theater’s biggest star); Rose relinquished their Fifth Avenue lifestyle and subsequently dedicated her life to helping the homeless. The press loved gorgeous Rose, the selfless young widow. But for Carrie, living with an altruistic mother left little room for happiness. Carrie decides to go in search of Rose’s past, and starts with great-uncle Paulie, Lu’s big brother, in his 80s and still living in New Haven, Conn. Paulie says the problems began with Mifalda, Carrie’s great-grandmother, a young bride from Italy. And so Carrie’s family saga begins, an entertaining mix of feminism-lite (women need self-fulfillment!) and a passionate rendering of theater life. Mifalda finds domestic life empty, though that doesn’t prevent her from planning the same for her spirited daughter Lucia. But modern little Lu has other dreams: With a musical gift and an indulgent father, it’s not long before her talents are requested at recitals and weddings. When she accidentally becomes pregnant, Mifalda agrees to look after little Rose while Lu pursues her showbiz dreams. But when Mifalda dies and Rose goes to live with the rich star Lu has become, Rose becomes embittered and disapproving. Carrie then goes to George Standish, Lu’s conductor and best friend, for the next chapter of the story—the tumultuous marriage of her parents. Self-indulgent Bobby and pious Rose couldn’t have made a worse match, but it’s not until Carrie meets her grandmother Lu that she gets the whole sad story.

Like the best Broadway musicals—revels in bigger-than-life moments and is filled with just enough sadness and truth.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-345-50209-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2009

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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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