A disappointing second outing marked by a thin story and thinner characters.

CIRCLE OF THREE

A conventional take on the well-worn theme of the relationship between mothers and daughters, this time exploring the effects on lives when a husband and father dies suddenly and three generations find the past still shaping their lives.

As seems almost obligatory with this increasingly formulaic concept, Gaffney (Saving Graces, 1999) has three women take turns narrating the story: Carrie Van Allen, the recently widowed wife of mathematician Stephen; her 15-year-old daughter Ruth; and Dana Danziger, Carrie’s mother, all of whom live in Clayborne, the small Virginia town where Carrie’s father and Stephen both taught at the local college. Carrie, an artist, feels especially responsible for Stephen’s heart attack—they had been arguing minutes before it occurred—but her guilt has even deeper roots: she realizes she never really loved Stephen and that her heart still belongs to local farmer Jess Deeping, whom she’s adored since high school. Ruth, missing her father, and worried about Carrie’s depression, finds solace in visiting Jess’s farm. Dana, meanwhile, whose family were dirt-poor country folk, is bored with husband George, whom she married because she thought he’d give her social standing; she now wants Carrie to remarry someone of good family and promise—meaning not Jess. Carrie, though, who starts painting again, is newly drawn to Jess and resents all the more her mother’s meddling and her earlier role in preventing her from marrying Jess previously. The two become lovers, angering both Ruth and Dana. Shocked by what she thinks is Carrie’s disloyalty to Stephen, Ruth runs away to Washington, D.C., in an action that seems more plot device to bring things to a head than nail-biting scare: for, once back home, all three women confess their misgivings and mistakes and are ready to move on.

A disappointing second outing marked by a thin story and thinner characters.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-019375-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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