A fresh portrait of a familiar troubled era, but, careful reconstruction that it is, it works better as history, falling...

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HAVOC, IN ITS THIRD YEAR

A Catholic official tries against all odds to live under a Puritan regime in 17th-century England.

In a different age, John Brigge would have been called a collaborator. A coroner and governor (i.e., town councilor) in rural northern England, John was raised by a devout Catholic mother who had lost friends and favor when she publicly refused to renounce the old faith. John is not nearly so brave, preferring to make a pretense of conforming to the Church of England while secretly holding to the rituals of his ancestors. It’s a risky compromise even so: The rise of the Puritans to power in the early 1600s has intensified the religious conflicts throughout England, and a succession of bad harvests has resulted in widespread poverty and even famine. Scapegoats are in demand, and religious fanatics are quick to expose them. The local authorities in John’s county are staunch Puritans who themselves only recently overthrew the venal Lord Saville and set up a strict campaign against public corruption and private vice, and, although John is well-liked by the new governors, he has kept his distance, living in retirement with his wife, Elizabeth, and avoiding public controversies. When a young woman in the district is accused of infanticide, however, John is summoned to investigate. Although the evidence points strongly toward the woman’s guilt, John insists on a proper inquest in accordance with the law. This brings accusations of disloyalty, and, when the accused woman begins to win a following in prison by speaking against the governors, the town fathers smell sedition in the air. John is compromised already by his religion. Can he be, like Thomas More, the king’s good servant but God’s first?

A fresh portrait of a familiar troubled era, but, careful reconstruction that it is, it works better as history, falling rather flat as fiction. This is Irish author Bennett’s fourth novel but second to appear here (after The Catastrophist, 2004).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5856-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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