Another riotous carnival of larcenous fun Ö la Elmore Leonard—this time set in and around a real carnival. Taco tycoon Axel Speeter, who doesn't like banks, keeps his fortune in Folgers—$260,000 in seven coffee cans, to be precise. Sophie Roman, newly promoted to manager of Axel's Taco Shop, doesn't know about it, but her footloose daughter Carmen does, and soon so do Carmen's boyfriend James Dean and his new skinhead friends, Tigger (the little, dumb one), Sweety (the big, even dumber one), and Pork (their pumped-up crank connection). All Axel wants to do is max out his take at the Minnesota State Fair; all Carmen, an aspiring nurse, wants to do is dose herself with bigger and bigger hits of Valium—at least until she samples the crank; all Dean wants to do is plunge his arms up to the elbows in Axel's greasy greenbacks. While all are biding their time waiting for Hautman's hilariously overgalvanized plot to kick in, Axel reminisces about some long-ago hands of poker he played with his buddies Sam O'Gara, the human randomizer, and Tommy Fabian, the monarch of Tiny Tot Donuts; surprisingly capitalistic Sophie and increasingly brain-dead Carmen jockey for position at the taco counter; and Dean goes after Axel's buddy Tommy Fabian, of Tiny Tot Donuts, and spends a lot of time mangling bits from the John Donne book borrowed from the sister he killed back in Omaha. Even minor characters, like the Motel 6 night manager and the clotheshorse twinkie Axel's hired for the State Fair stint, share the tunnel-vision looniness, convinced, like Axel and Dean, that their ships are about to come in. Hautman (Short Money, 1995, etc.) provides pleasantly hallucinogenic dialogue that faithfully reflects the mixture of nonstop junk food, increasingly toxic drugs, and background noise from the Tilt-a-Whirl and the hog pens just outside the midway; the whole world vibrates, with each felonious dreamer always on the cusp of a carnival buzz. Joyfully loony—as blissful as a ton of cotton candy.

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-81000-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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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.


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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