A tight and captivating story: this is very likely how it would feel to be in Charles’s uncomfortable shoes.




A malpractice courtroom drama that manages to be both bumptious and philosophical.

At first blink, readers may be wary of Dr. Joseph Charles’s so obviously trying to drag them into his corner: “You’ve probably assumed from seeing the man in the wheelchair at the plaintiff’s table. . . .” Red flags shoot up. But soon enough Dr Charles reveals himself to be your standard model, a flawed and foibled human being, defensive and self-doubting, confident and an admitted “idiot,” happy to note that a colleague looks like “Fred Flintstone giving an impression of Clint Eastwood getting a rectal exam.” Which is not to say that Charles, in the hands of author Spitalnic (himself a practicing physician), is allowed many weaknesses as a doctor: messy, rushed charts are about as far as Spitalnic will go in criticizing his medical character. Charles, after all, has to be able to stand foursquare as he explains all the injustices in malpractice law: its arbitrariness, its waste of time and money, the absurdity of its staginess: the way defendants must wear just the right clothing and must “feign a concerned interest” at all times. As the courtroom days pile up, with occasional flashbacks that increase our professional and personal interest in the characters, Spitalnic manages to make a fine hash out of the testimony of expert witnesses—some readers will wonder why they’re even used after seeing how they’re countered by teams of lawyers—and tenders an eye-opening account of the way big insurance underwriters approach these cases: in order to get insurance, as the adjuster explains it to Charles, “you give up the right to protect your reputation. This is about money now. How much if we lose, how much to make it go away, what’s the chance we can keep it in our pockets.”

A tight and captivating story: this is very likely how it would feel to be in Charles’s uncomfortable shoes.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-89733-524-4

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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