Witty, smart, and occasionally fascinating, Lefebvre’s novel becomes tiresome by the end.

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BLUE SELF-PORTRAIT

The stream of consciousness of an unnamed, utterly obsessive woman on an airplane.

The narrator of Lefebvre’s first novel to appear in English has no name, no stated occupation. When this slim book begins, her plane is taking off from Berlin; it ends as she lands in Paris, her home. In between is a kind of cyclone of her thoughts, which circle obsessively around certain themes, certain images, without ever reaching any kind of consistency, let alone resolution. At the center of her thoughts is a man she refers to as “the pianist” or “the composer,” whom she saw in Berlin when, to her great regret and self-loathing, she talked too much. Other points of obsession include: the narrator’s education; her habit of not caring, a cardinal characteristic; the idea of collective happiness; the letters of Thomas Mann and Theodor W. Adorno; and the self-portrait by Arnold Schoenberg, in which the composer appears in blue, with upturned nostrils and only one ear, which gives the book its title. It’s difficult to say how all of this ties together or whether, indeed, it does. It’s difficult to say what has actually happened and what the narrator has only imagined happening. It’s easy, too easy, to refer to all this as stream of consciousness, though there doesn’t seem to be a better phrase. There is pleasure to be found in the elegance and sophistication of the narrator’s thoughts. There is humor as well as pathos in her self-doubt. But her endless obsessing becomes tiresome in the same way it does in any friend, acquaintance, or person you’ve been seated beside on an airplane. You long for a breath of air, for some calm. Lefebvre fits a lot into her slim little novel—but she never achieves calm.

Witty, smart, and occasionally fascinating, Lefebvre’s novel becomes tiresome by the end.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945492-10-5

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Transit Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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