A stylish reiteration of a sad, oft-told tale.

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ANOTHER SIDE OF PARADISE

Gossip columnist Sheilah Graham’s side of her less-than-paradisiacal love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald during the last three years of his life.

Koslow’s portrayal begins with Sheilah’s refusing to accept the fact that Scott has just died. Flashbacks form the rest of the novel, narrated by Sheilah. Born to a poor Jewish family in London, Sheilah (nee Lily Shiel) is consigned to an orphanage by a mother unable to care for her, but she eventually attains enough respectability to attract upper-class suitors. She marries the much older John Graham Gillam, who is more mentor than husband—they will divorce amicably—and with his blessing achieves a measure of acclaim on the London stage before journeying to America to pursue a career in journalism. Her penchant for fluff pieces lends itself perfectly to gossip, and soon Sheilah’s in Hollywood, challenging Louella Parsons and Hedda Hoper. The story of Sheilah and Scott’s instant chemistry and their on-again, off-again, but always intense liaison is told with taste and sympathy for these deeply flawed characters: Scott, whose best intentions are always derailed by his frequent tumbles off the wagon, and Sheilah, who grows increasingly weary of concealing her déclassé origins, real name, and Jewishness. She’s not entirely reassured when Scott points out that most of Hollywood’s movie moguls are Jewish and that the majority of movie stars have what he refers to as a “nom de guerre.” As Scott tries to improve on Sheilah’s education with a Western canon reading list, she acts as his personal manager, remediating the chaotic aftermath of his drinking bouts. Scott's bad luck as a screenwriter is entertainingly depicted as he's fired from such iconic films as Gone with the Wind (despite Sheilah’s help with visualizing the character of Scarlett) and The Women. Koslow’s writing is vibrant and colorful, and the denizens of Scott’s world are ably summed up in a few pithy swipes: “In 1935, Dorothy [Parker] was a wicked, eyelash-batting pixie willing to catapult into any conversation.”

A stylish reiteration of a sad, oft-told tale.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-269676-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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