An overlong first act that doesn’t quite live up to its epic ambitions.

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LUZ

Gonzalez’s debut novel, the first in a planned series, follows an idealistic young Cuban woman whose fate may change the course of human history.

Nineteen-year-old Clara thinks she’s witnessing a miracle. It is 1994 in Cuba, and after four years of food shortages, blackouts and rampant unemployment, the people are rebelling against Fidel Castro. Cubans are fleeing the island in improvised boats, and Castro’s blue-uniformed police seem powerless to stop them. For Clara, her husband, Rigo, and their friends, this historic moment represents a shot at freedom and intellectual fulfillment in the United States. But when an otherworldly messenger visits Clara on the eve of their exodus, she decides to sacrifice the life she has always dreamed of in order to serve a much higher calling. Gonzalez is a strong, sometimes-idiosyncratic prose stylist particularly adept at capturing the clash of idealism and futility that marks this period of Cuba’s history. However, his habit of returning time and again to the same details—Clara’s anxious state of mind, her ruminations on the landscape, the omnipresent police—often brings the story to a standstill when the stakes are at their highest. The tension is further dissipated by a sudden shift to the heavens, where a comic disagreement between an imperious Creator and a rebellious Son of Man underscores the political strife on Earth but does little else to advance the novel’s plot. These flaws work against Gonzalez’s considerable storytelling prowess, which he most fully realizes in a chapter devoted to the back stories of Rigo and Clara’s father. Here, flashbacks allow the story to move along while capturing the heartbreak of intellectual yearning snuffed out by an oppressive bureaucratic regime. Unfortunately, the rest of Clara’s lengthy narrative struggles to get anywhere fast. Readers who stick it out until the end are likely to feel betrayed by the story’s lack of resolution.

An overlong first act that doesn’t quite live up to its epic ambitions.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1477492017

Page Count: 562

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2014

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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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