Witless and lame debut.

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GODDESS FOR HIRE

An “ethnic chick-lit” entry about a southern California Indo-American woman, who turns out to be the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Kali, reads like a dumbed-down episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Maya is 30, unmarried, unemployed, and the only one in her extended family who isn’t a doctor. A matchmaking aunt sets her up with Tahir, who flies in from Delhi, and, when Maya goes to the airport to tell him she refuses to marry a stranger, she’s kidnapped by Ram and Sanjay, taken to a motel room, and informed that the dark goddess Kali has returned in Maya’s body. Her task: to recognize evil and stop it. Maya drops by Barnes & Noble to research Kali. Result: “If I were Kali’s personal shopper I’d dress her in Dolce & Gabbana and advise leaving the necklace of freshly cut heads at home.” In sessions at Taco Bell, Ram tutors Maya in her duties, providing her with a ruby-encrusted sword and suggestions about how to take on her powers. Meanwhile, Tahir, who turns out to be a “hottie,” is also unwilling to accept the traditional arranged marriage. He and Maya are having a bumpy time of it (she’s always disappearing to take care of Kali business; he keeps flirting with her cousin Nadia). But Maya continues to find him appealing (at a party, her gynecologist aunt, seeing her gaze at Tahir, announces, “Maya’s aroused, I recognize the signs. . . . No doubt her inner labia have begun to swell and darken in color”). Finally Maya gets drunk at a bar, calls Tahir to pick her up, and they end up in bed together. Afterward, Maya informs us, “The goddess was pretty damn good in the sack.” Too bad that Maya is a vulgar, shallow, self-involved, unappealing narrator, given to puking and profanity when she’s not busy telling us about her Manolos, Tommy Bahama sandals, Armani jeans, and pink cashmere Ralph Lauren top.

Witless and lame debut.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-059036-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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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

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