PAGAN'S FATHER

Tackling a worthy subject, but with a long-winded polemic loosely disguised as a novel, British writer Arditti explores the question of proper parenting in a knock-down, drag-out custody battle between a child's legal but gay guardian and her grandparents. When free-spirited photographer Candida dies in London after wasting away from a degenerative motor disease, her will dictates that care of her six-year-old daughter, Pagan, be left to Candida's best friend and longtime companion, Leo, a national celebrity and TV talk-show host. Since Leo isn't Pagan's father (Candida never revealed his identity), her adoptive, archconservative parents, from whom Candida has long been estranged, object; after losing the first round of legal encounters, they weigh in with evidence of Leo's homosexuality. Forced to admit being gay, turned into food for scandal in the tabloids, Leo loses custody, which proves to be only the beginning of his humiliation. When Pagan (renamed Patience) exhibits bizarre behavior after three months of living with her grandparents, Leo suspects sexual abuse, but his discreet inquiry into the matter backfires when he finds himself charged with the crime. Arrested and jailed, vilified in the press and on the street, with his career in a shambles, Leo becomes despondent; eventually, however, he has his day in court, where Pagan's videotaped testimony, seemingly so damaging to his case, points the finger at her grandfather instead. Society's darling once again, innocent Leo has the satisfaction of seeing the real villain, who proves to have abused Candida and her brother too, locked up, while Pagan and he resume their former life together—but not without some fresh surprises. Force-feeding a message, no matter how laudable, makes it distinctly unpalatable; the problem is compounded here by a tale told at excessive length, featuring a protagonist almost unbelievably pure of heart.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1996

ISBN: 1-56947-062-6

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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