The resolution is a tad facile, but March’s likable first novel is unerringly true in its evocation of Southern mores.

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CATBIRD

The breakup of his marriage forces a young Southerner to reach back into his family’s past to salvage his identity.

It was all looking so good for Zeb Dupree, eldest son of a North Carolina sharecropper. First in the family to go to college, let alone graduate; the marriage to an influential preacher’s daughter he had thought unattainable; the plum job as editor of a suburban New Orleans paper; the split-level home. Then came the phone call: His father had killed himself. Zeb took the news so hard that he started drinking heavily, lost his job and his wife, Roseanne. We first meet Zeb as he’s returning to his old college town, Cedar Springs in the Piedmont, looking for a band to play with (he’s a fiddler). But the world has moved on. It’s the ’70s now, the hippies are gone, and rock has replaced country. Zeb must settle for washing dishes and painting condos. To his chagrin, his younger brothers L.C. and Merle are now doing better materially than he is, though L.C., a Vietnam vet, is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. March’s crisply written story weaves in and out of the past. Zeb begins a tentative relationship with a new girlfriend, but he must deal with his father’s suicide before he can move ahead again. Lavis had had a bitterly pessimistic view of life, ever since his brother had cheated him out of his share of the family farm. After that, working another man’s land, Lavis had always feared he would be evicted. Had Lavis resented Zeb’s early success? Zeb must forgive his father before he can become whole again. And then it comes to him: He must buy back the damaged family farm and rebuild his life even as he literally rebuilds the “homeplace.”

The resolution is a tad facile, but March’s likable first novel is unerringly true in its evocation of Southern mores.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-57962-126-0

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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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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