The line between comedy and tragedy is thin. This one swings hard but misses.

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DOUBLES

A professional tennis player learns just how hard the ball bounces.

After gathering much praise for his first novel, Brown (Floodmarkers, 2009) fails to bring his A-game to this muddled, melancholic follow-up about a professional athlete. The protagonist and narrator, Slow Smith, was once one of the best tennis players in the world, a doubles champion with a 148-mile-per-hour serve and a faithful partner in his hell-raising childhood pal, Kaz. But 23 years later, Slow is a ghost of his former self, taking charity gigs in the wake of the terrible car accident that put his pregnant wife Anne in a coma. Once Slow learns that Kaz was sleeping with his wife, he starts to go a bit bonkers. In a rare opportunity for original humor, Slow challenges Kaz to a duel but recants. Wallowing in his worsening misery, he drinks too much, canoodles with two former classmates and makes jarring, dichotomous declarations that disrupt the flow of an already prickly story. “I felt alive, dangerous. Free,” he says during a legendary hangover. Later, “I am a barbarian.” Only during Slow’s visits to Anne does his true nature emerge. Every day, Slow takes a Polaroid of his wife, maintaining her own habit of photographing him. “They all looked like someone who had at one point been my wife, had once been alive, had once kissed me and started to cry because she was afraid I wouldn’t love her as much once the baby was born.” While Brown clearly has a gift for language, the caustic dejection of his main man overwhelms the book’s black humor, and Slow’s potentially redemptive return to the sporting world is virtually an afterthought. By the time Anne is resurrected from her deep sleep, it’s difficult to see what she ever might have seen in Slow, even in the ghostly echo of a thousand photographs.

The line between comedy and tragedy is thin. This one swings hard but misses.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58243-507-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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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