A finely crafted, Anaïs Nin–centered fantasy with unexpected depths.

ANAÏS NIN AT THE GRAND GUIGNOL

Levy (The Glittering World, 2015) imagines a lost diary from a legendary author, set amid the decadence and eroticism of Paris’s premier horror theater.

In 1933 Paris, Anaïs Nin languishes in her marriage to her husband, Hugo, only feeling alive when in the arms of her lover, Henry Miller, or writing in the pages of her extensive diary, which documents her “mirror life,” as her therapist terms it. When Henry’s wife, June—who’s captured Anaïs’ heart, perhaps even more than Henry has—leaves for New York City, Anaïs seeks solace in the grotesque, ribald productions of the Grand Guignol, about which she writes: “The Theatre du Grand-Guignol is nothing if not an ideal night out for the amorous, lovers who innocently enter the small Pigalle black box only to cling to each other in paroxysms of laughter or fright, the emotionally heightened scenarios blossoming like poisonous flowers upon the stage.” There, she meets the actress Paula Maxa, the so-called “Maddest Woman in the World,” who bears a fleeting resemblance to the absent June. In Maxa, the writer finds a new obsession—one to help fill the loneliness that has haunted her all her life—but for the actress, there is another: Monsieur Guillard, who stalks the streets of the theater district dressed in black. Soon, he begins to haunt Anaïs’ dreams—and then her reality. Levy’s prose is ornate and styled to evoke the emotions of his narrator and her sensuous milieu: “My dark desires, they have long carried a vast and primitive voluptuousness capable of opening doors between places I once thought locked forever.” With it, the author manages to effectively conjure his setting, but the illusion dissipates in the dialogue, which reads as more contemporary in style than it should. Still, the novel is phantasmagoric and appealingly melodramatic, and deeply rooted in Anaïs’ personal demons. The novel’s conclusion is surprisingly poignant, as well. Readers looking for a concentrated cocktail of Années folles splendor will find that this short erotic novel quenches their thirst.

A finely crafted, Anaïs Nin–centered fantasy with unexpected depths.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59021-717-7

Page Count: 159

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 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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