A smart, fun satire—Jonathan Swift in space, with twists befitting Vincent Price.

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THE FOUR FINGERS OF DEATH

A rollicking romp through deep space and Arizona alike, improbable and thoroughly entertaining, courtesy of master storyteller Moody (Right Livelihoods, 2007, etc.).

Mash up Isaac Asimov with Thomas Pynchon, with dashes of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, and you begin to approach Moody’s madcap view on the world. His near-future tale opens in 2024 with a sad sack of a writer named Montese Crandall, who—shades of Twitterous tweets—has been perfecting the art of reducing an epic to a single line: “We went with the stealth bomber,” and “Last one home goes without anesthesia.” Crandall is quite proud of this, exulting, “I, Montese Crandall, M.F.A., write very short, very condensed literary pieces, and by short, I mean very, very short.” Well, the insiderish, self-referential joke’s on us, for Moody—or, better, Crandall—then proceeds to deliver a massive shaggy dog of a tale, a novelization based on an old 1960s grade-Z film called The Crawling Hand. (That film is real, and no one you’ve ever heard of, apart from maybe Alan Hale of Gilligan’s Island fame, is in it.) And why, of that hand, do only four fingers figure? Well, something has happened to the middle of them, along with the corporeal remains of a crew of astronauts unfortunately exploded over the Arizona desert on re-entry from Mars to Earth. Those four fingers make a lethal little package, however, creepy-crawling around and transmitting icky space sicknesses to the inhabitants of terra firma. Moody brings in dozens of characters major and minor, from a chimpanzee to a “fucking ridiculously hot girlfriend” to desert rednecks to astronauts and bureaucrats, and not a one of them wasted; as he gamely intertwines their destinies, he switches mood, voice, register and generally has a grand old time twitting the conventions of science fiction and literary narrative alike. It’s a big old goof, but punctuated by telling commentary about the direction society, the planet and literature are all going—which, suffice it to say, is not the ideal one.

A smart, fun satire—Jonathan Swift in space, with twists befitting Vincent Price.

Pub Date: July 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-316-11891-0

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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