A pair of tales that will entertain, transport, and move readers.

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WHAT SOME WOULD CALL LIES

Two novellas introduce two protagonists yielding to long-stymied grief.

In Shoplifting, a writer named Monica Evans assumes the role of stay-at-home mother to a toddler in the sticks of Northern California. The angst of this identity shift moves Monica to more deeply process life events formerly consigned to “emotional shorthand”—namely her choice to drop out of an MFA program; the memoir she started writing then abruptly stopped; and the death of her sister, a prospective lawyer who was a troublemaker with a knack for shoplifting in a past life. This reflecting, as well as several rattling visitations from a specter, eventually causes Monica to resume her memoir by way of writing a piece on shoplifting. In doing so, she finds herself adopting a penchant for the habit that heals her in surprising ways. In Infidels, an adult named Jackie Rose recalls his wintry preteen years in suburban Minnesota against the backdrop of 1970s postwar anxiety. Jackie is the son of an alcoholic father who is a Vietnam veteran-turned-kitchenware-salesman. Jackie’s mother is a homemaker who—much to her husband’s chagrin—is pursuing a college education. Jackie himself is more like his mother in that he is bookish and prefers to spend time in the library reading and worrying about Russian warfare over training for the hockey and baseball tryouts his father insists he attend. Amid increasing tension between his parents, Jackie disappears into the formidable task that is leaving boyhood behind in “Me Decade” Middle America. In these enjoyable and touching stories, Davidson’s (Spectators, 2017, etc.) prose is meticulous in conjuring the precise atmospherics of time and place. His nostalgia for a bygone era in Infidels is particularly vivid (“I knew where he’d lifted that look. It was Danny Zuko in Grease. We’d seen the movie three times last summer, drooling over Olivia Newton John in those skin-tight leather pants”). The author also demonstrates impressive stylistic dynamism; his writing can be both funny and adept at rendering painful emotional intricacies. That said, Davidson doesn’t extend this care to other elements of his writing. Some side characters lack dimension. Recurring symbols make appearances that read like afterthoughts. And dialogue occasionally veers toward the trite.

A pair of tales that will entertain, transport, and move readers. 

Pub Date: July 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944355-46-3

Page Count: 177

Publisher: Five Oaks Press

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2019

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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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