A junior-league Catherine M. bound to raise just as many eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic. One can only imagine where...

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100 STROKES OF THE BRUSH BEFORE BED

Just when you thought you were proof against sex scandals, the young Ms. P., reportedly 16 at the time of writing, obliges with a remarkable two-year sexual odyssey.

The narrator is a schoolgirl whose first sexual experiences involve looking at herself in the mirror with love and admiration. Melissa has friends who touch themselves and dream of giving themselves to boys, but she’s in no hurry for a relationship—she wants to be “lovely, brilliant, poetic.” For better or worse, the acquaintances who soon take her through the gate of the secret garden supply quite a different range of encounters. Daniele is a callow student indifferent to her needs and wishes. Roberto, the law student, is more articulate, but his gentleness turns to brutality behind closed doors. Fabrizio, the 35-year-old married man she meets in a “Perverse Sex” chat room (many of Melissa’s adventures depend on cutting-edge technology), thinks he’s given her everything just because he’s offered to set her up in an apartment. Melissa finds tenderness only with her transvestite friend Ernesto, her lesbian friend Letizia, and Valerio, the math professor who insists on calling her Lolita and himself Humbert. What’s most remarkable about this staggeringly assured debut, however, is not the sexual smorgasbord—voyeurism, sadomasochism, group sex, etc., etc.—but the utter lack of any distractions from sex (family, school, friendships) recorded in Melissa’s diary; the prose chaste as the 100 strokes of the hairbrush that mark Melissa’s return from each adventure; and her wide-eyed acceptance that she feeds on the sexual violence she so abhors.

A junior-league Catherine M. bound to raise just as many eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic. One can only imagine where the author’s literary career will take her next.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8021-1781-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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