A troubled woman makes peace with her family in this well-written and introspective novel.

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LONG DIVISION

A family’s dysfunctional history is revealed as a grandmother keeps a close eye on her nursing home and a granddaughter prepares for a marriage she is unsure about.

This debut novel blends the stories of Gertrude Littlefield, 94 years old and resident of a Lynn, Massachusetts, nursing home, and her granddaughter Leigh Fortune. Gertrude keeps a close eye on the other residents of her nursing home—and particularly on the growing flirtation between two of the staff members—while a series of flashbacks tells the story of her marriage to Clive and their separation before the birth of their daughter, Beverly. Leigh, Beverly’s daughter, is an accountant engaged to Mark, a man she gradually realizes is not right for her. When she checks Gertrude’s mail, Leigh learns that Beverly, an alcoholic who abandoned her children with Gertrude decades earlier, has just died, and as the reader sees how things repeat themselves from one generation to the next, Leigh slowly makes sense of how her relationships with both Gertrude and Beverly (“My experience of my mother was that she never knew the date, never mind bothering to put it on a letter”) have left her immature and also self-sabotaging, not yet ready to  be part of a stable marriage. By the time the characters gather for Gertrude’s funeral in the book’s final pages, Leigh has connected with Beverly’s friend Simon, who shares stories about a sober, grounded woman very different from the irresponsible alcoholic Leigh knew. Simon’s undemanding friendship and Beverly’s personal growth give Leigh space to develop her own maturity.  The novel is both quiet, focused on domestic moments and small details, and melodramatic, full of infidelity (“From not cheating to cheating feels like the tiniest little step, practically unavoidable”), bad parenting, and strong emotions. Fraser has an excellent sense of place, and her Cape Cod and North Shore settings are alive with detail. While readers may feel that some plot points are too clearly foreshadowed, the book’s events on the whole come together to form a coherent, engaging story with a satisfying resolution.

A troubled woman makes peace with her family in this well-written and introspective novel.

Pub Date: March 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68433-235-9

Page Count: 229

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2019

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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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