A LAZY EYE

STORIES

From Dublin-based Morrissy (Mother of Pearl, 1995), 15 stories that at their best sing with feeling, though the strain of artifice at other times threatens to damp the tone. Family life—especially the poor and crowded kind—comes alive in Morrissy's hands. In the title story, for example, a young woman tours Europe on money left by her father, but in spite of an episode of searing injustice that mars her travels, the story's most memorable passages hearken back to a home life where the girl was the youngest of 11 siblings (``a plate of potato cakes would nosedive to the table and there would be a spasm of outstretched arms''). The suffering of childhood—and the marks it can leave—affords some of the strongest moments here. ``Invisible Mending,'' for instance, is about a police inspector who's coolly ruthless in getting confessions: and in his childhood, the reader learns, was just the combination of good intentions and depraved injustices to create an adult both sadistic and poetically sensitive. Morrissey sometimes stretches for her stories, though, in ways that threaten to make method more visible than the story it tells—as in ``Divided Attention,'' about a woman so obsessed with an ex-lover's family life that she becomes a peeping Tom, or the predictable ``A Marriage of Convenience,'' about a tourist and an opportunistic local waiter. Some pieces tend toward thinness through being device-heavy, as in ``Plaque,'' where a marriage ends as dental work begins. But ``A Curse,'' although clumsy in its plot turns, does catch the true intensity and baffled passion of adolescence; and ``Agony Aunt,'' about sibling rivalry between grown sisters, hints powerfully at a terrible darkness in the very intimacies of daily life. Stories that are among the finest when at their best, then, though others haven't grown into their new skin, still shaking off the artifice and feel of the classroom.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-19668-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1996

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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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