In all: simplistic politics, convoluted plot, and a heroine too whiny and self-centered to pity.

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THE THIRD CHILD

The message of the prolific Piercy’s latest (Sleeping With Cats: A Memoir, 2002, etc.) seems to be that conservative politicians make bad parents as well as bad leaders.

After a stint as governor of Pennsylvania, Dick Dickenson has begun his first term as a senator and has eyes on the White House. If Dick has the requisite charm and charisma, his wife Rosemary, a cross between Nancy Reagan and Lady Macbeth (or Hillary Clinton), has the brains. Neither has much interest in third child Melissa. When younger, she tried to win her parents’ attention by excelling, but by the time she begins her freshman year at Wesleyan, she merely wants to get below her mother’s critical radar. In a nonfiction-writing class where she composes a revealing essay about feeling neglected by her parents, she meets Blake Ackerman, adopted son of anti–death penalty lawyers from Philadelphia. Melissa’s brief volunteer stint as an inner-city tutor while in prep school has raised her racial sensitivity, so she doesn’t care that Blake is Jewish and part African-American, both no-no’s in the Dickensons’ WASPy world. As Melissa and Blake’s affair intensifies, Melissa is far too interested in her sexual awakening to pay attention to hints that Blake’s interest in her father is an obsession. Blake talks in abstract, idealistic terms, but his real agenda is revenge: for political reasons, his father was wrongly prosecuted—and executed—for a police killing while Dick was governor. Melissa, besotted with Blake and resentful of her parents, unwittingly helps get the goods on Dick’s political/financial wheeling-dealing for an investigative reporter. When her parents forbid her to see Blake and threaten to pull her out of Wesleyan, she marries him. Then the real nightmare begins. Blake remains an arresting enigma: Does he really love Melissa or is he using her? The rest of the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts.

In all: simplistic politics, convoluted plot, and a heroine too whiny and self-centered to pity.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-621116-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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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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