A THEFT

The big news about Bellow's new novella (just a bit over 100 pages long) is that it is being published from the start as a paperback—a rare move for a blue-chip writer. The book itself is less momentous: one episode (ostensibly pivotal) in the life of "the czarina of fashion writing," steadily intriguing and crisply told yet oddly lacking in resonance and conviction. Clara Velde, "a rawboned American woman," part Indiana and part uptown Manhattan, has begun middle age in good shape: triumphant career, three darling daughters, and a tolerable fourth marriage (to handsome, ineffectual Wilder). But Clara has never quite accepted the dead-end status of her long relationship with Ithiel "Teddy" Regler—a foreign-affairs expert to presidents (never quite at the Kissinger level) who married other women, wasn't even monogamous in his philandering, and once drove Clara to the brink of suicide. So, when Clara can't find the longtime symbol of Teddy's passion (a valuable emerald ring he gave her), she is deeply upset. Especially since she's convinced that the ring has been stolen by the shady boyfriend of the Velde children's beloved nanny: comely young Gina from Austria. And Clara finds herself facing a series of ethical dilemmas as she tries simultaneously to recover the ring, judge Gina's behavior, reassess the importance of her passion for Teddy. . .and take stock of her own strengths and weaknesses. Bellow works hard to invest this anecdotal material with Jamesian layers of morality and psychology; there's even an explicit attempt to make the doomed Clara/Teddy affair a metaphor for world politics. ("We have the power to destroy ourselves, and maybe even the desire, and we keep ourselves in permanent suspense—waiting.") But Clara, whose dialogue often slides into stagy rhetoric, remains more an assemblage of striking attitudes than a fully drawn, believable character. (The sketching-in of her role as "attentive mother"—which becomes crucial at the finale—is particularly flimsy.) And Bellow's readers will have to be satisfied with the very substantial page-by-page pleasures of his narration: the dry wit, the edgy intelligence, the severely elegant prose, and the easy mastery of viewpoint, time-frame, and voicing.

Pub Date: March 28, 1989

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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