A fascinating blend of family drama and metaphysical inquiry.



A striking debut explores the impact of a childhood tragedy on three siblings.

In 1958, when Henry, Lauren, and Winston Cooper are ten, seven, and five, respectively, their infant sister Sally dies in her crib while the children are alone with her. As their mother sinks into depression and their engineer father retreats to work, Winston begins destroying objects in the house; he fights frequently with Lauren, who’s having a hard time reconciling her religious instruction with her baby sister’s senseless death. (A delightfully cranky nun makes the Catholic case persuasively but not definitively.) Henry is acting even stranger; he believes that he has “slipped into [the] head” of Suriyu Asagao, a Hiroshima survivor who died from radiation poisoning but whose spirit remains in limbo—“trapped by my attachments to my last life and unable to go onto my next,” Asagao informs us in one of several interpolated monologues that suggest Henry’s belief is not necessarily crazy. The author scrupulously leaves the question open: she shows us the psychological needs met by Henry’s shadow life and offers possible medical explanations through Robin, an emergency-room doctor Lauren eventually marries; yet she paints such a compelling portrait of Henry as the loving, peaceful reconciler who holds his fragmented family together that we understand why Lauren and Winston join him each year to celebrate the Japanese Festival of the Dead in hopes of soothing Asagao's restless spirit. As the narrative progresses across several decades, we see that the siblings remain traumatized by Sally’s death, which opened their eyes to a world of suffering inflicted by a God who is “silent, demanding, punitive, irrational, enormous.” This is never the whole story, for the novel is suffused with the characters’ love for each other, but love threatens not to be enough as Lauren’s marriage falters and Asagao’s presence becomes more intrusive. Readers who want clear answers will be frustrated by the ending, but it will haunt those who can accept ambiguity and uncertainty.

A fascinating blend of family drama and metaphysical inquiry.

Pub Date: July 19, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-15168-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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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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