Despite this title’s shortcomings, readers will be eager to return to the table for Gilbert’s next work.

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A LOVELY, INDECENT DEPARTURE

Gilbert’s debut novel reduces the mess of child custody and parental kidnapping into a few elemental ingredients.

Divorced school teacher Anna Miller is about to depart for Genova, Italy, with her son, Oliver. For reasons the book doesn’t provide, Oliver’s father, Evan, has custody of the child, and Anna and Oliver are running away. Because the author’s descriptions are so bare, chapter titles—which identify the character covered in each chapter—are like breadcrumbs enabling readers to follow the story. Using a limited third-person point of view to navigate through short scenes, the novel drops subtle hints about the players without fully developing them. When Evan confiscates a card Oliver made for Anna, it’s clear he will never win any Father of the Year awards; however, even in this scene it’s difficult for readers to judge him as an unfit parent. To determine how serious his issues might be, readers are left to fill in the blanks while watching his new relationship fall apart or read between the lines of his dialogue with the FBI agents and private investigators he hires to track down Anna and Oliver. The author’s treatment of dialogue—sans quotation marks, without descriptions of inflection or volume—adds a feeling of complicity to the sparse prose, as if readers have overheard something that’s wrong but not entirely illegal. This literary device leaves readers feeling uncomfortable, as they’re probably meant to be. The well-crafted plot is meted out at a steady pace, continually feeding readers’ need to know and simultaneously whetting the appetite for more. Unfortunately, the novel doesn’t end on a wholly satisfying note, mostly because Anna isn’t as completely developed as the sheriff, the book’s most likable, fully formed character.

Despite this title’s shortcomings, readers will be eager to return to the table for Gilbert’s next work.

Pub Date: March 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985336509

Page Count: 282

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2012

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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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