A compelling tale that’s a must for Hess’ fans and an excellent introduction for everyone else.


The Butcher's Sons

In this novel, set in 1930s New York, the lives of three brothers diverge and intertwine as each finds his own pathway to manhood. 

Hess’ (Bergdorf Boys, 2011, etc.) latest work is a brutally dark, lyrical fairy tale in which three siblings pursue their respective journeys through life while finding their places within a shattered family. The story establishes its characters right away when eldest brother Dickie pushes youngest Adlai to the ground over a perceived slight. Middle brother Walt doesn’t respond, but Big Ed, a member of the Butchers, Dickie’s small-time Irish gang, finally intervenes. The sheer gravity of Dickie’s violent temperament drags all the brothers down with him. In an effort to go big-time with the Butchers, Dickie intrudes on a meeting between rival Italian mobsters and ends up shooting one of them. Later, he sends an Italian bagman packing by smashing a pickle jar on his head. These acts garner the attention of Frankie, a sharp-dressing mobster, who kidnaps Dickie, beats him to a pulp, and then offers him a job as a hit man, with the caveat that Dickie’s brothers must also work for him. Beautifully written, infused with symbolism and baptisms of blood, fire, and water, this tale shows each character reaching epiphanies in their separate journeys. Adlai, for example, is on the threshold of coming to terms with his homosexuality: “He was thinking almost like another person, an older person, a man from the future…he was aware of a newness coming through him.” Meanwhile, they all find love: Dickie meets his match in an African-American woman named Eva; would-be doctor Walt falls for Adriana, whose physician father despises him; and Adlai enters a dangerous but fulfilling relationship with another man. When Dickie’s plot to fix Walt’s romantic problems backfires, the family hides out in an upstate cabin, where their zombielike father, Pat, rises from the dead, taking charge. At once gritty, poetic, and romantic, Hess’ masterful, elegant style weaves these diverse elements into a seamless narrative that touches the heart of what it means to be human. 

A compelling tale that’s a must for Hess’ fans and an excellent introduction for everyone else. 

Pub Date: April 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59021-074-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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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.


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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