A novel that tries to marry the internal conflict of Tim O'Brien to the novelist style of Nelson DeMille but can’t quite...

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THERE'S A MAN WITH A GUN OVER THERE

A Vietnam-era veteran recalls his childhood, leading up to a defining moment as a military policeman in Germany.

It's hard to tell whether author Ryan (Vaudeville in the Dark, 2010, etc.) is playing fast and loose with the truth in his sort-of war memoir. Ultimately, veracity doesn’t matter much for a story in which nothing much happens. The launch is intriguing—military policeman Rick Ryan is being threatened by soldiers loyal to Staff Sgt. Elija Perkins, who's been arrested by Ryan and his partner for bootlegging cigarettes. There's also the tease of a fatal denouement: “And then it hit me: what kind of a story did I have to tell? I’d never been in real combat, though maybe I’d killed someone.” From there, it’s a lot of flashbacks to a relatively idyllic childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin, and the occasional flash forward to a peaceful adulthood in the present day. Mostly it tells how Ryan got from Wisconsin to Germany, working his assignments while the Baader-Meinhof gang carries out their ultraviolence nearby. After consulting with draft resisters and failing to mutilate himself to get out of the war, Ryan enlists. He's trained as a military policeman and deployed in Germany under a diverse rogue’s gallery of commanders. Weird side note: He talks to Albert Speer in his dreams. The married but unfaithful Ryan also takes a lover who threatens him with retribution from her Baader-Meinhof friends, which kicks off that murky ending we mentioned earlier. The book’s difficulty comes in wanting to have it both ways, leaving it unconvincing as a thriller yet lacking the emotional depth to qualify as a cautionary tale.

A novel that tries to marry the internal conflict of Tim O'Brien to the novelist style of Nelson DeMille but can’t quite stick the landing.

Pub Date: March 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-57962-385-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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