Heavy on the self-reproach, this questing first novel is all but defeated by its insistence on the difficult duties of...

NO DIRECTION HOME

Themes of desertion and migration visibly shape a story of family responsibility.

Guilt or abandonment or both afflict almost every member of the large cast in Silver’s first novel as they explore melancholy feelings about their parents or offspring. Will Burton, more sensitive than his twin brother Ethan—although both suffer with the same eye disease—fears he is to blame when his father, Frank, suddenly walks away from his family without saying goodbye. Will’s mother, Caroline, is forced to sell up and move, with the children, back to her parents, Vincent and Eleanor, in California. Eleanor, beset with dementia, seems rarely burdened with deep feeling anymore, but Vincent, who abandoned her for a while, years ago, fears that the wound he inflicted precipitated the disease. Eleanor’s nurse, Amador, has abandoned his own family in Mexico, in an effort to shoulder his financial responsibilities. He, too, carries a burden of sorrow, since his first son died aged one, after a family outing when Amador impulsively dipped him in a chilly river. Subsequently he dares not love his other children as freely, especially his second son, Rogelio, who has always sensed but misunderstood his father’s prickliness. And there’s another forsaken child, 16-year-old Marlene in Ohio, Frank’s love child who, after a sudden, fleeting encounter with him, decides to trek to California, thinking to find him there. Rogelio has also run away from home, eventually appearing in Amador’s trailer, thin and desperate. Amador, who had started an affair with Caroline, realizes he must reunite his family and curtail his emotional absence. Marlene’s arrival surprises no one and engenders kinship with her half-brothers. She understands her father will always elude her, but has found something else. Caroline chooses to share the burden of her mother with her father. Silver (stories: Babe in Paradise, 2001) writes deftly but her overdeterminism squeezes the life out of her characters.

Heavy on the self-reproach, this questing first novel is all but defeated by its insistence on the difficult duties of parent and child.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-05823-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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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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