A sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.

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DUCK AND COVER

ELEVEN SHORT STORIES

A set of stories about kids in a seemingly wholesome small town that’s tinged with darkness.

Elliott’s (Runners on Running, 2012, etc.) characters are young boys and a few girls, most of whom are growing up in the town of Milford, Illinois, during the 1950s and ’60s. Their lives are filled with schoolwork, sports, and crushes until subtle crises undermine their complacency. In “The Faulkner Sentence,” for example, a beloved English teacher revels in diagramming sentences until a student challenges her to parse a 1,300-word William Faulkner passage. A boy trudges through a snowstorm toward the hospital where his mother lies dying of cancer in “The Big Snow,” and a high school track star, in “Running God,” gets ground down by his coach’s sadistic training regimen. In “The White Sox Team Card,” a trio of delinquents plots to steal a precious baseball card that a Chicago gangster covets, and in “Lucky,” a boy discovers that his perennial good fortune comes at the expense of his polio-stricken sister—and he tries to compensate by courting disaster. A young girl marvels at the northern lights and dreads her strange, drunken uncle in “Aurora Borealis”; a boy reacts to the Sputnik 1 launch in “Propellants” by building an amateur rocket called Red Scare; and in the title story, an eighth-grader discovers a classmate taking refuge in his family’s fallout shelter during the Cuban missile crisis. In this debut collection of stories, some of which have previously appeared in literary magazines, Elliott crafts characters who are mainly ordinary youngsters in ordinary circumstances who feel slightly uneasy in their skins—overmatched by expectations or possessing unrealistic desires. Often, these tensions are played for gentle comedy, but just as often, the author pulls the rug out from under readers by swerving into disaster. Elliott writes with a supple, naturalistic style that’s also psychologically rich: “George—beautiful, vulnerable George—with lifetimes behind those lovely, hooded eyes and smiling his all-knowing smile,” muses a girl besotted with Beatles heartthrob George Harrison in “Mania.” The result is a vivid evocation of postwar America that’s both halcyon and haunted.

A sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72318-356-0

Page Count: 168

Publisher: RichElliottProductions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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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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