THE GOLD BUG VARIATIONS

Triumphantly true to form, Powers continues the densely layered and intricate plotting found in his earlier novels (Prisoner's Dilemma, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance) in this stunning epic that delves into molecular genetics, music, and information science, eloquently combining the mysteries of love and the passionate pursuit of knowledge. In a manner reminiscent of A.S. Byatt's Possession, a capable young reference librarian renews her sense of purpose as she and a computer technician/art-historian come together in seeking to recover the past of his co-worker Stuart Ressler, a brilliant older man wasting his talents as the night supervisor in a Brooklyn data- processing facility—and soon unmasked as one of the brightest hopes in genetics in the 1950's who vanished from the field after a promising start. The interweaving threads of narrative reconstruct a tragic affair between Ressler the scientist and a married colleague; a similarly electrifying and devastating relationship between the two sleuths; the perilous path of science as it grapples with the fundamental patterns of life; and the librarian's own obsession with the secrets of genetic coding, initiated in despair after learning of Ressler's death from cancer. Ranging in detail from genetic formulas to musical ones (with the title a typically witty reference to both Bach's variations and the Poe short story), replete with scintillating characters, especially the oddball team of scientists gathered to crack the code on a midwestern campus in the 50's, and structurally as well-tempered as a Bach fugue, the harmonious interplay between personal and scientific drama is both challenging and exquisite. A formidable masterpiece, deeply vital and sparkling in its many facets, whimsical in its prose yet precise in its elucidation- -rewarding in every sense but, in particular, a profoundly moving love story.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 1991

ISBN: 0-688-09891-6

Page Count: 696

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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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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