A tribute to the book-obsessed that’s unfortunately cast with stereotypes.



A triangle of unrequited love and a tussle over an apocryphal Melville manuscript enliven Hay’s bildungsroman.

Eighteen-year-old Rosemary, father unknown, journeys from Tasmania to New York City after her mother’s hat business fails, followed soon by her death. Rosemary lands a job at the Arcade, a musty warren of used books, patterned after the Strand bookstore and staffed by bookish boors: skinflint owner Pike; the big lugs who wrangle the paperback tables; beautiful, asexual Oscar, on whom Rosemary nurses a crush; myopic albino Geist, who prices review copies for resale; and Mitchell, who beguiles well-heeled clients in his rare-books room. After Geist, besotted with Rosemary, floats her a loan, she sublets a cold apartment in a bad neighborhood and gamely dresses it with gimcracks and keepsakes, including a box containing her mother’s ashes. There she entertains gal-pals Lillian, from Argentina, whose son was among the “disappeared,” and Pearl, a pre-op transsexual who works the register at the Arcade. Geist asks Rosemary to read him an anonymous letter offering for sale a contraband Melville manuscript. Rumors of the letter, obviously intercepted before it reached Pike, fall from Rosemary’s loose lips, kindling suspicion and booklust in Mitchell and Oscar, who compulsively researches obscure facts. In two pokey chapters, Rosemary and Oscar peruse Melvilleanea, including the “Agatha Letters” to Hawthorne (large chunks of which are excerpted verbatim), detailing Melville’s idea for a novel about a wife abandoned by her sailor husband. Once the two deduce that Geist’s quarry could be that same book (The Isle of the Cross, rejected by Melville’s publishers, no known copy in existence), the story picks up speed. Geist’s plot to fence the manuscript is exposed too late to redeem him or Oscar, but Rosemary, leaving bookselling behind for publishing, has amassed invaluable life experience, not to mention avuncular advice from her colorful older mentors, most of whom she cheerfully—and thankfully—ignores.

A tribute to the book-obsessed that’s unfortunately cast with stereotypes.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-51848-X

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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 modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?