A unique novella that offers a passionate, if somewhat incoherent, defense of quality journalism.

THE NEWSPAPERMAN

In a new book by Nudo (The Millionaire’s Cross, 2014, etc.), a man investigates a local publication run by staffers who may be more dangerous than they seem.

Seth Kesler, who works in advertising, is “the last of a dying breed” of people who still love reading high-quality print journalism. So he’s intrigued when he meets Cedrick, an eccentric yet friendly old-fashioned newspaper hawker, outside his office building one morning. The C-U Journal, a long-defunct daily serving the Champagne-Urbana region of Illinois, has recently been purchased by Richard W. Fields, a media mogul who’s buying up local papers across the country. Seth, disenchanted by the fact that shallow internet click-bait is replacing quality journalism across the United States, is initially pleased to read a real newspaper. But the publication’s standards decline rapidly, resulting in sensationalized, poorly written, and likely inaccurate stories that seem aimed to titillate rather than tell the truth. Just as disturbingly, Cedrick proves himself to be quite capable of violence when crossed; in broad daylight, he brutally attacks some disrespectful teens who later mysteriously disappear—and Seth worries that they may have met a worse fate. Aided by his wife, his co-worker, and a local journalism professor, Seth investigates Cedrick, Fields, and the shady group of characters who churn out the C-U Journal, which he begins to see as a destructive force in the community. As Seth becomes increasingly passionate about defending his cause, however, he realizes that the C-U Journal staff may be a threat to his life. This quick, readable novella’s enthusiastic advocacy of good journalism feels very relevant in today’s era of “fake news.” Seth’s alarm at his friends’ and family’s reliance on unreliable sources (such as trending Twitter terms) rings true, as does the fact that the C-U Journal becomes widely read for its calculated, salacious content rather than for quality reporting. The C-U Journal staffers are more like horror-movie characters than denizens of realistic fiction—they talk and act bizarrely, enact frequent violence with theatrical élan, and experience either delayed consequences for their actions or none at all; for instance, no one beside Seth seems to notice Cedrick’s aggressive public behavior toward the teens. Seth is so calm and reasonable that it’s hard to determine what kind of reality he shares with the C-U Journal people. Indeed, the text leaves some major questions unanswered: Why are the local police so incompetent at investigating crimes when the culprits seem obvious to a casual observer? Why would Seth, after suspecting murder and witnessing terrible violence by C-U Journal staffers, accept an invitation to enter their building unaccompanied? If Fields is meant to serve as a symbol of the evils of modern journalism, why does he refuse to publish online, where some of the worst journalism trends of the past few years have festered? Although this work is certainly an entertaining read, these plot uncertainties make its message a murky one.

A unique novella that offers a passionate, if somewhat incoherent, defense of quality journalism.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-981783-28-1

Page Count: 166

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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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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