WORKING MEN

STORIES

Fourteen handsomely crafted stories showing sympathy for a broad range of mostly male characters—from stalwart small-town workingmen to a homosexual traveling salesman and an obedient Native American boy on the verge of marriage—by memoirist (The Broken Cord, 1989) and novelist Dorris (coauthor, The Crown of Columbus, 1991; etc.). The voices are as disparate as the characters, though most are echoes of midwestern hills and plains. In ``Earnest Money,'' a Dakotan draft-evader returns home to claim a small legacy from his dead father, but quickly and rashly marries a female drifter, turning the money over to her care. In ``Quiana,'' a henpecked rural snow-plow operator defies his wife and buys a loud shirt at a yard sale—then impulsively ignites an affair with the widow of its previous owner. ``Me and the Girls'' is a comic monologue by a man who's kidnapped two ``abused'' elephants from a zoo. In ``Shining Agate,'' a postgraduate anthropologist is surprised to find he's changed the lives of the mysterious Alaskan natives he's reluctantly gone to study. In the most memorable pieces, the emotional issues are strong and clear: In the opening story, ``The Benchmark,'' an aging architect of ponds remembers the drowning of his beautiful young son, an only child. In ``Groom Service,'' a Native American boy finds himself smitten by his future bride—in spite of the mothers' cynical, funny, but unending manipulations on their behalf. And in the finest story, ``Jeopardy,'' a shrewd and banal pharmaceuticals salesman who woos doctors' receptionists to obtain sales appointments by day and at night picks up fellow salesmen for sex finds through a routine phone call that the only person he loves, his pottering old father, has suddenly died. Crisp, convincing, and often affecting stories of men's lives. (First printing of 50,000)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-2296-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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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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