THE ATHEIST

AND OTHER STORIES

Irish writer MacMath£na makes his US debut with a story collection that tackles—with rueful satire—a place that has the ``climate for revolution, but not the weather.'' MacMath£na's passion is always under control, but the stories pulse with a sense of frustration and anger at the ways in which those Irish who want a more progressive country are continually thwarted by ancient superstitions, rigid religious beliefs, and a pervasive sense that nothing can or will improve. In ``Wedge,'' a character who accidentally kills his alcoholic and abusive father observes that ``Life is like a tragic drama on television. There are two ways to play it, backwards or forwards. I prefer backwards because that way you always finish with a happy beginning.'' Stories like the ``Queen of Killiney'' (a typically corrupt politician suddenly finds himself pregnant and has to go to England for an abortion), ``Prisoner of the Republic'' (the failure to change the divorce laws ends a long love affair), and ``Waiting for Dev'' (a village awaiting the famous leader De Valera realizes that it is no better off than it was under the British) are all concerned with overtly political themes. Two notable and especially poignant evocations of the Irish dilemma are the title story and ``The Banquet of Life.'' In the first, a committed atheist must deal with the grief of his young daughter at the death of her mother as relatives invoke all the old religious beliefs and superstitions. In the second, Brother Fergus—a teacher who believed that ``absolute obedience kept the soul from `getting notions' '' but who also liked figures, discovering how much he would earn in the outside world for the work he is doing—begins to construct an imaginary life in which he is no longer ``outlawed from the Banquet of Life.'' Some pieces here don't travel as well as others, and one or two are marred by obvious sentimentality, but mostly this is an accomplished debut.

Pub Date: May 12, 1993

ISBN: 0-86327-103-0

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Dufour

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more