Good old-fashioned melodrama, with plenty of sex and scheming.

SCORPIO RISING

In Domovitch’s debut novel, the fates of an ambitious young American architect and a beautiful Parisian painter intertwine.

The novel tells the parallel stories of Alex Ivanov, who’s at the onset of a promising career in architecture, and Brigitte Dartois, who escapes a string of dishonorable men to make a career as a painter. Spanning from the late-1940s to the 1960s, the novel follows Alex and Brigitte as they come of age, take control of their destinies and begin to see their respective stars rise. Born in poverty to a single, Russian-immigrant mother, Alex single-mindedly pursues his ambition, working night and day to learn his trade and establish himself. With no time for love or marriage, he uses his powerful good looks to seduce and leave a string of women; an entanglement with sexy Anne Turner, a secretary at his firm with an agenda of her own, threatens to cost him his hard-won position. Brigitte, who left home as a teenager, finds a job in a glamorous department store and becomes the target of her married boss’ extravagant attentions; he buys her a new wardrobe and sets her up in a lavish apartment. Upon realizing his motives, she flees to start a new life in Montmartre, selling her paintings in the market. Against the odds, Alex and Brigitte meet in Paris. They’re both uncertain about the future, but they find themselves drawn to each other despite their great differences. The novel has its flaws: The plot and characters are a bit generic, and many of Alex and Brigitte’s troubles result from the machinations of stock villains. The historical period is perfunctorily set, but Domovitch commendably handles the story, weaving together multiple subplots while creating passionate, ambitious characters who fight for what they want. She allows Alex and Brigitte enough complexity to prevent their eventual romance from seeming saccharine, although it’s not clear whether things will turn out well for them. The ambiguity and ominous developments that conclude the novel serve to dramatically set the stage for the novel’s sequel, The Sting of the Scorpio (2011), which follows the lovers to America.

Good old-fashioned melodrama, with plenty of sex and scheming.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463790738

Page Count: 398

Publisher: Lansen Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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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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