THE SWORD AND THE FLAME

By the author of many, many historical novels (and also grim little sagas of concentrated familial nastiness like Vollands, p. 625): a view of the strenuous career of Marie de Guise of France, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, born in 1587, six days before the death of her father, James V. The fictional narrator here is Claudine de Vouvray, resilient and feisty, who is happy to accompany her beloved half-sister Marie de Guise (neither illegitimate Claudine nor Marie ever publicly acknowledges the relationship) to Scotland, where the widowed Marie will be the queen of James V, the dangerously volatile victim of a punishing childhood. The pair accommodate, however, and both are overjoyed when two sons are born—and devastated when the babies die. Their deaths—plus the defeats by the ever-invading English- -destroy the King, and he dies after the birth of Mary. It's then that Marie de Guise begins her perilous rule among powerful neighboring and internal combatants—royals, religious (the ``reformers'' led by John Knox are on the march) and Scottish chiefs and landholders. Through it all—edgy chamber diplomacy, journeys, wars, and horrid deaths—Claudine is Marie's loyal confidante, though she's been driven forth once, after it was obvious that she was carrying one of James V's many bastards. Eventually, Claudine's adventures in love and marriage and rudimentary survival end in France, but Queen Marie dies in Scotland, fighting to the last to preserve the Scottish crown. Hill's conscientious monitoring of the heels and deals can be a rough slog (the snarl of names and multitudinous feuds is formidable), but Claudine and her adventures offer some relief, and this is a plausible portrait of a Queen and her harsh and dismal battle to secure a throne to which her daughter Mary would return to be Scotland's last monarch.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1992

ISBN: 0-312-07091-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1991

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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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