A silly trifle but clever and fun.

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JANE AUSTEN IN BOCA

The title says it all. Cohen, a humanities professor and author of several books of scholarly nonfiction, offers a kosher teacake of a first novel loosely fashioned after Pride and Prejudice and elucidating the social mores of genteel Jewish retirees in Boca Raton.

Cohen’s Boca are the condominium complexes full of retirees primarily from the Northeast. Best friends May Newman, Flo Kliman, and Lila Katz are widows in their 70s living quietly in Boca Festa, a typical Boca complex, not as shabby as some nor as grand as the most exclusive. Then Carol Newman, a contemporary suburban yenta cum Emma, sets up her placid, passive mother-in-law May with Norman Grafstein, a wealthy retiree, while financially strapped Lila encourages the attentions she receives from the crudely foolish but relatively well-off Hy Marcus. That leaves Flo, a former librarian at the University of Chicago, who claims to be uninterested in romance. Sophisticated, acerbic Flo is soon sparring with Norman’s friend Stan Jacobs, the recently widowed, somewhat dour English professor at the local university who is too overtly critical of the Boca lifestyle for Flo’s taste, though she’s not above mocking the foibles of her fellow residents herself. Enter Mel Shirmer, a divorced former journalist, too charming by half, who woos Flo while he considers buying a condo. The transparent plot, a follow-the-numbers exercise in Austen-copying, concerns the ups and downs of the widows’ romances. To say all ends happily gives nothing away. The story works best as social commentary—who knew, for instance, that Jews of a certain generation were Anglophiles who chose British last names like Howard and Irving as first names for their sons? The British and New Jersey accents here sometimes collide, but the Boca community is certainly Austenian in its rituals, rules of etiquette, and daily rites, such as shopping (Loehmann’s), home decorating (lots of turquoise), and entertaining (lots of food).

A silly trifle but clever and fun.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-29088-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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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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