Like a mix tape from a friend: some lackluster patches but also a few bits of magic that you’d never have heard otherwise.

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LIT RIFFS

Writers try to spin literary interpretations of pop songs, with some rather catchy results.

Although probably not as revolutionary as the publisher would like to think—Nick Hornby did his own take on this idea not so long ago for McSweeney’s—this is a noble effort to marry pop music to pop writing. The idea is that two dozen contributed short pieces that were inspired by particular songs. The volume begins on a high, albeit raggedy note, with an unpublished slice of down-and-out boozer life by late great rock critic Lester Bangs, inspired by Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Bangs is an undisciplined storyteller—no surprise—but there’s an impressive amount of insight in his lowdown recounting of a man’s hapless encounter with an older whore. Jonathan Lethem contributes a story based on “The National Anthem” that’s good enough as far as it goes but occasionally sounds like a cast-off from one of his recent Brooklyn novels (one does occasionally wish Lethem would return to the schizoid SF he wrote years ago). Much of the collection is taken up by inconsequential riffs from the likes of Lisa Tucker (Pearl Jam), Touré (Bob Marley) and Julianna Baggot (Bruce Springsteen), many of them trying too hard to marry their subject matter to the music: sometimes you can hear the glue tearing loose. Better is a Neal Pollack item that uses a Merle Haggard song for predictably deadpan and hilarious satire on the Chicago alt-country scene, or Judy Budnitz’s “The System,” a perfectly dark fantasia, inspired by Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole,” about a small-town population’s shocking plan to save themselves when their primary business (a prison) seems likely to shut down; it’s akin to something Waits would have written himself, or Shirley Jackson.

Like a mix tape from a friend: some lackluster patches but also a few bits of magic that you’d never have heard otherwise.

Pub Date: June 15, 2004

ISBN: 0-7434-7026-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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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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