Bell is a gifted veteran, and though the more realistic half of this novel is more compelling and affecting than the mystic...

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BEHIND THE MOON

From Bell (The Color of Night, 2011, etc.), a novel about a young woman finding her way back aboveground both literally and metaphorically after a misadventure beneath the surface of things.

Julie ditches school for an overnight motorcycle trip into the badlands with her best friend, a potential love named Jamal, and two untrustworthy toughs. These last two turn out to be wannabe pornographers who have dosed her water with what appears to be LSD, and they chase Julie and Jamal up into the carious moonscape of cliffs and rocks, many of which have extensive graffiti tags ranging from contemporary spray paint to ancient Native American drawings. In her impaired state, Julie tumbles into a narrow and deep cave shaft, and it's almost two days before Jamal can bring help. After she's extricated, the "Cave Girl" spends weeks in a coma, with Jamal at her side—and with one of their assailants lurking menacingly, threatening to silence both of them. Meanwhile, Marissa, who gave her infant daughter up for adoption 17 years earlier, has suffered a shock of her own—a priest she worked with and loved dies suddenly of a heart attack. In a susceptible state, Marissa leaves her job and, heeding a mysterious impulse, goes looking for the daughter she abandoned. She quickly finds her in the comatose Cave Girl. In intercut chapters, Julie has embarked on a kind of vision quest inspired by the cave art and the landscape. Marissa and Jamal join forces, and eventually—with the help of a Native American enforcer/bounty hunter/shaman named Ultimo—they head both outward into the badlands and inward into a hallucinatory alternate reality to try to coax Julie back to ordinary reality and those who care about her.

Bell is a gifted veteran, and though the more realistic half of this novel is more compelling and affecting than the mystic fever dream, the whole is lyrical, ambitious, and well worth reading.

Pub Date: May 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87286-744-4

Page Count: 280

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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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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