Cohen plods along the Austen road map, but the characters lack wit; they’re more often pathetic or mean than funny.

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JANE AUSTEN IN SCARSDALE

OR LOVE, DEATH, AND THE SATS

Cohen, whose contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen in Boca, 2002) was a delight, now tackles Persuasion in this strained romance about a high-school guidance counselor and the man she reluctantly threw over 13 years before.

Anne Ehrlich met Ben Cutler when she was a senior at Columbia and he was a bookish travel agent from Queens. Though deeply in love, she broke up with him because her family, rich Westchester Jews of German descent, didn’t approve of his plebeian background and lack of obvious prospects. Now she’s a 34-year-old unmarried guidance counselor at a Scarsdale, N.Y., high school, where she helps students apply to college. Cohen offers astute social commentary on the college admissions process, specifically the wooing strategies that occur between high-school seniors and the colleges of their choice. Anne’s family is now financially strapped because her father has run through the family fortune he inherited from Anne’s mother, who died when Anne was very young. To pay her father’s debts, Anne is trying to sell the large but increasingly rundown family home in which she was raised by her maternal grandmother, Winnie, a crotchety but lovable grandame whose disapproval of Ben influenced Anne. Out of the blue, a certain Jonathan Cutler transfers to the school; he has been living abroad with his single mother and his Uncle Ben, now a famous travel-book author. Although Ben is engaged to his Danish assistant, a pleasant woman named Kirsten, and despite some slight diversions with Anne’s other suitors, there is little question where things are headed.

Cohen plods along the Austen road map, but the characters lack wit; they’re more often pathetic or mean than funny.

Pub Date: April 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-32502-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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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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