HASSIE CALHOUN

In 1959, small-town Texas beauty Hassie Calhoun, 17, goes to Las Vegas hoping to sing at the famous Copa Room. With the help of Frank Sinatra, she loses her innocence but manages to cling to her dream of stardom.

The first book in a trilogy, it goes where every other lousy book or movie about Las Vegas has gone. Fleeing a broken family, Hassie shows up unannounced at the Copa Room, thinking the business card a club underling gave her at a talent showcase in Dallas is her ticket to the top. His shady boss, Jake Contrata, quickly swoops in on her, politely backs off, gives her a waitress job and, after she's been pawed sufficiently by the clientele, swoops back in with an offer she can't refuse. Not only does she accept the fact that all the showgirls are prostitutes, she volunteers to become one if that's what it takes to get ahead. A jealous type, Jake seethes over seeing Hassie spend time with Sinatra even before she falls into the sack with the singer. With the help of hotshot New York talent manager Clay Cooper, Jake's half brother, ever-resilient Hassie pursues her music, ending up in Reno after a stint in Manhattan. But violent incidents, betrayals and the assassination of John F. Kennedy put a crimp in her progress. Cory, a former cabaret singer and voice coach, has a tin ear when describing music (she likes the word "jazzy") and musicians. We're told she has never been to Texas, and nothing in the book convinces us she's been to Vegas either. Her descriptions of the scene and its players are devoid of color, and the sex scenes are by the numbers. This may be the first time Sinatra, whom she dutifully gives a heart of gold, has receded from a page. The book plods along for hundreds of pages, offering no hope that the second book in the series will be any better. A dreary, hackneyed account of a young aspiring singer's adventures in Las Vegas.

 

Pub Date: June 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-9824584-7-1

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Scarletta Press

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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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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