Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.

THE POSITION

In Wolitzer’s slyly comic sixth, a couple publishes Pleasuring: One Couple’s Journey to Fulfillment, with illustrations of the authors in various positions including the gymnastic “Electric Forgiveness,” “a wonderful way to achieve climax quickly and lovingly after a scene of anger or stress.”

Things begin in November 1975 when Roz and Paul Mellow’s four children—teenagers Holly and Michael and their siblings Dashiell, eight, and Claudia, six—go through their parents’ book together in the family den in suburban Wontauket. Their “orchestra seats for the primal scene” ensure that none of them will be the same. Weaving together the stories of the four and their now-divorced parents, Wolitzer (The Wife, 2003, etc.) covers a wide swath of pop culture, from Claudia’s fascination with troll dolls to Dashiell’s discovery that he’s gay (and Republican), Michael’s antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, and the downward trajectory of Holly, the oldest, who, after decades of drug-taking, emerges miraculously as a still attractive fortysomething nursing mother unwilling to deal with her family except from a distance. The thirtieth anniversary reissue of Pleasuring brings the family back into conflict. Roz, remarried and teaching at Skidmore, is all for it, wanting the attention and the royalties. Paul, retired in Florida with a long-suffering second wife, resists. We learn that Paul was originally Roz’s psychoanalyst (he was ousted from the profession) and that Roz left Paul for the illustrator of Pleasuring, who sketched the two for months and then declared his love. While Michael tries to convince his father to go along with the deal, his lover Thea plays Dora in a play based on the Freudian case study and starts an affair with her female costar; Dashiell gets Hodgkin’s and needs a stem-cell transplant; and Claudia meets David Gupta, whose parents live in her old house, and begins her first true love affair.

Immensely readable, if occasionally flat. Wolitzer is best when she stirs the pot of familial and generational tensions.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6178-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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