COBBLESTONE

A vast, sprawling novel linking a meticulously plotted jewel theft in 1896 Budapest to the impulsive crime of passion that sinks the plotters—and to the history of modern Hungary, of the anonymous narrator's family, and of life on earth. Months of planning have brought together M†rton Jank¢, the Safe King of Hungary, his former cellmate Socrates Andronikos, pickpocket Isaac Israel Baumgarten, and an elusive ``fourth man''—together with their women, minor accomplices, and hangers-on—to steal the fabled Blue Blood diamond, marked for the celebration of the Hungarian Millennium, from an uncrackable safe in the Hungarian-Italian Credit Bank. After painstaking discussions of ways to carry off the jewel, trials on similar safes, and elaborate contingency plans for eluding the police, the fourth man takes a night off to go to ``Baroness'' Agnes Vad's legendary cabaret Silly Kitty, witnesses a quarrel in which young Bora Clarendon brains her unfaithful lover with a brick, and gets tangled in a preposterously unlikely coverup of the crime. It's a coverup that will bring him up against bulldog Special Investigator Dr. Dajka despite his insistence that he had nothing to do with the crime—an affront that reduces guilty Bora, who's fingered him, to traumatized silence and turns her hair white overnight. Noted Hungarian author Lengyel, who makes his first appearance in English with this 1988 novel, persistently broadens the resonance of his criminal follies by interrupting the narrative for the fourth man's reflections on the rise of multicellular organisms, the dinosaur age, the generations of his family, and the chaotic changes that have swept over his beloved Hungary in the tumultuous century since the robbery. Lengyel's heroically scaled assault on narrative and causality may well remind some readers of Paul Auster, as individual characters repeatedly dissolve into endless vistas of history—and, Ulysses-like, into an obsessively detailed catalogue of 20th-century Budapest.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1993

ISBN: 0-930523-85-7

Page Count: 528

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1992

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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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