GLOVE PUPPET

If Oliver Twist had wandered out of his orphanage and been picked up by Gus Van Sant instead of Fagin, the results might have been something like this debut novel. Even Van Sant, however—to say nothing of Dickens—would have managed to tell the story in better taste. “You probably wonder,” Johnny says, “why I’m writing a biography at age 20.— Well, no, it’s not that surprising, considering that Johnny has spent the last few years sleeping with—and making porn films for—his homosexual step-father and most of their close friends. Naturally, it’s a long story. Johnny, in actual fact, never knew his real father: his mother was a prostitute and drug addict, and when she overdosed in London’s Victoria Station, Martin Usher happened to be on the scene. Usher, known as Shamash, was a dancer and ballet director from Australia whose only son Vaslav had died in a car accident. So Shamash gives seven-year-old Johnny Vaslav’s passport and takes him to Sydney to be raised. Shamash is attentive, dutiful, and loving to the boy, but life becomes a trifle complex during Johnny’s adolescence when he decides that he wants to be gay just like Dad, and even starts to fantasize about having sex with him. Shamash is equally attracted to Johnny, so he sends him away to boarding school to put him out of temptation’s path. Guess what? They can’t hold out, and after carrying on secretly for as long as they can, they sink ever deeper into Sydney’s gay underworld. Although the plot’s unique—to say the least—the story is written in such a tortured, melodramatic tone, so completely out of keeping with the elements of the narrative (“Golden boys from yesteryear wearily dispense condoms and lube . . . should the current selection prove too grim and a few more drinks be required before carnal agendas can be met”) that all but hard-core followers of the gay scene will be quickly turned off. Strictly for a narrower audience, unless Drinnan gets lucky and finds himself denounced by Trent Lott.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19271-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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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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