TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE

A NOVEL

After the grandiose, obsessive longueurs of Ancient Evenings (1983), most readers will find the opening chapter of this new Mailer novel a relief—since it seems to promise the most familiar, controlled sort of fiction. The narrator is Timothy Madden, a 40-ish writer living in Provincetown, Mass., who's been going through hell for the past 24 days, ever since his wife Patty Lareine ran off "with a black stud of her choice." Madden ponders his nicotine addiction, his past amours, Patty Lareine's lurid tendencies, the Provincetown milieu; his musings are "introspective, long-moldering, mournful"—and conventional. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that Mailer is engaged in something of an anything-goes improvisation—as Madden stumbles into a murky grab-bag of black-comedy and sexual/existentialist melodrama, teeming with echoes (send-ups?) of other writers. The prose-style, blending vernacular and limpid poetics, often seems to be a parody of Updike. (It comes as no surprise, about halfway through, that Madden has written an essay on Updike's style: "He has a rare talent. Yet it irks me.") The plot recalls Bellow, Thomas Berger, and many others: Madden gets drunk, meets a flashy couple from California at a bar; he wakes up semi-amnesiac the next morning, with a tattoo; he soon discovers a decapitated woman's head in his marijuana patch (does it belong to Patty Lareine—or the woman from California?); eventually there are corpses everywhere, two severed heads, revelations about rampant adultery and real-estate greed; and all the major figures from Madden's past (his father, his old flame Laurel, Patty Lareine's kinky ex-husband) converge coincidentally. Meanwhile, narrator Madden—part suspect, part sleuth—is haunted, a la John Gardner's Mickelsson's Ghosts, by the voices of 19th-century whores. But the final chapters return to preoccupations that are pure Mailer: violence and homosexuality as challenges to being a tough guy—with two gay suicides, oral/anal graphics, and Madden's confession to his macho Irish father. ("You think I feel like a man most of the time? I don't.") Throughout, there are chunks of great talent on display—in the sly play of language, in the raunchy humor, in the Provincetown scenery and the sudden flashes of raw, genuine feeling. And this short, lively novel will certainly be read all the way through in a way that Ancient Evenings wasn't. But it's a thin, disappointing potpourri overall—seemingly made up as it goes along, with about equal portions of inspiration and self-indulgence.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 1984

ISBN: 0375508740

Page Count: 229

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1984

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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