PILGERMANN

It's a curious fact that Russell Hoban and Norman Mailer are very nearly the same age (born 1925 and 1923 respectively)—because, like Mailer's Ancient Evenings (p. 203), Hoban's new novel is a quasi-mystical blend of theology, ghosts, magic, death-songs, and dark sexual visions. But, while Mailer's book surrounds those preoccupations with a longwinded, episodic narrative, Hoban presents them in a dreamlike meditation-cumpilgrimage—dense, poetic, difficult. The pilgrim/narrator is Pilgermann, a Jew in 1096 Europe, who indulges his lust for the local tax-collector's wife Sophia. . . and, after leaving her, is promptly castrated by the townsfolk, but not killed—thanks to, of all people, the tax-collector. And then Pilgermann has a vision of Christ, followed by a voice telling him—"Thou pilgrim Jew!"—to go to Jerusalem. Why? "To keep Jesus from going away," as God has gone away. So Pilgermann sets off for the Holy Land on foot. His acquaintances along the way include: a dying, John Irvingesque bear, symbolizing Christ ("What a wonderful bear that was! How I wished that I could have him for a friend"); a company of children raped by skeleton-creatures symbolizing Lust; a lascivious talking (and constantly fornicating) pig; assorted ghosts; and Pilgermann's own death, a visible entity but "not yet ripened to term." As he travels pilgermann ponders war, Hieronymus Bosch (the narrator is actually Pilgermann's eternal, clairvoyant soul), epiphany ("the strange brilliance of total Now"), and the Naumburg stone story: "The Jesusness of Jesus cannot live without the Judasness of Judas, the Caiaphasness of Caiphas, the Pilateness of Pilate. Ponderous wheel!" Then, in the novel's second half, Pilgermann becomes a slave to a simpatico Turk in Antioch—where he and his master consider "potentiality and actuality," the "motion of the Unseen": Pilgermann creates a mystical geometrical design for a tiled marketplace—a pattern symbolizing both the pro and con of religion. And when the crusading Franks arrive to massacre, Pilgermann curses God, achieves a purple-blue state of "indescribable luminosity". . . and faces his own extinction. At its best: a harrowing yet elegant blend of shapely parable and anguished imagery. At its worst: a cross between a comparative theology lecture and Castaneda-style blather. Of limited appeal, then, without the epic allure of Riddley Walker—but often a rich, bizarre challenge for the theologically-minded.

Pub Date: April 30, 1983

ISBN: 0747556407

Page Count: 244

Publisher: Summit/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1983

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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