Bellow has generally been considered our most intelligent and palpably stylish writer; beyond that there's the marvelous...

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MR. SAMMLER'S PLANET

Mr. Sammler's planet will be terra firma to all Bellow admirers.

The novel is, as Herzog was, a polemic, or discourse—a dazzling discourse commenting on man and always searching for "what is normal for human life" through one of his put-upon, assertive, strenuously speculative dangling men. Or victims. But always, somehow, a resilient survivor. This time it's Sammler, a refugee via Poland and two decades in England, now in Manhattan (grapefruit juice on the window sill, onion rolls in a humidor). Sammler has only one good eye but it's "full of observation," as is Bellow's for the particulars which give his works such a crowded, restless vitality. ("His senses are especially alive to things and he catches the sensation that the things have created the people or permeated them"—Pritchett.) Sammler's a septuagenarian—too old not to be aware of his cleavage from the present generation ("Who had made shit a sacrament?"); an admirer and friend of H. G. Wells, he often wonders how long this earth will be the only hope of man; and whether "this liberation into individuality" has failed (Bellow has always been passionately involved with the unique needs and powers of the individual and his "contract" with humanity); and what will happen in that unknowable future. And of course at seventy death is just a whisper away ("No one knew when to quit. No one made sober decent terms with death")—in fact very close as the kinsman-friend who imported him lies dying in the hospital. Among the other things that happen here (always incidental, in Bellow): his witness of a pickpocket on a bus; his trouble over his daughter Shula (her "open elements" baffle him) who steals a manuscript in his interest, however misguidedly; the romance of his niece; his general availability as a confidant to the luxuriously sensuous Angela (her father is the dying man) and other; etc., etc.

Bellow has generally been considered our most intelligent and palpably stylish writer; beyond that there's the marvelous intellectual agility and animation; and of course the swaggering comic spirit which keeps Sammler, like Herzog, so triumphantly alive.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 1969

ISBN: 0142437832

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1969

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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