THE RIVER WHERE BLOOD IS BORN

An ambitious, often lyrical, but narratively sclerotic first novel that attempts, within a folkloric structure, to tell the story of the African diaspora as experienced by one family over two centuries on three continents. While the ancestors gathered around the Queen Mother in the afterword comment and sometimes intervene, Ananse, the mythic spider and weaver of tales, traces the lives of a series of extraordinary black women. The complex, many-voiced narrative is an imaginative—but increasingly obtrusive—device that serves to slow an already sluggish novel. River is more a series of set-pieces- -learning about life by quilting, unsatisfactory (but graphically detailed) love affairs, lengthy descriptions of struggle and exile- -than the cohesive tale of generations of black women defying the degradation of slavery and racism that it was seemingly meant to be. The story begins near a river in West Africa, the ``river where blood is born,'' as Kwesi and Ama are separated and sold into slavery. Ama, called Proud Mary, has her tongue slit when she refuses to give up her baby girl to the white woman who takes the baby and rears it on her Caribbean plantation. Ama's child is later raped by her adopted father Gareth Winston; as the years pass, her descendants move out of the islands up to Chicago, London, and Montreal. Among the descendants are Bohemma, the wise quilter; Lola, a bar owner who tries and fails to live her life without becoming a mother; and Alma, her sexually frigid daughter, whose affair with Trevor, a married man, dominates her life until she goes to Africa. There, she finds the ``African identity'' she'd been searching for and, in giving birth to a baby near the river of the title, ends her family's long wandering. A potentially powerful story lost in verbiage and inaction. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-345-39514-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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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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