SCORCHED EARTH

In his flip, unfunny first novel, travel writer Stevens (Malaria Dreams, 1989, etc.) offers the familiar view of American political campaigning as mud-wrestling. Two brothers are slugging it out in the sweltering late- October heat of the Deep South with six days left to the election. Congressman Luke Bonney is running for the US Senate; his brother, Matt, is a top Washington consultant and adviser to Luke's rival, Governor Solomon Jawinski. The brothers belong to their unnamed home state's leading political family. Their father, Powell Bonney, was a segregationist governor in the '60s who took a Wallace-like stand against school integration; Luke has never forgiven him for his mysterious decision to quit after his first term, and the two have not spoken in years. There are no issues in the present race, just the personalities of Luke (an intense, 37-year-old go-getter) and the much older Jawinski (a ``Polish-Jewish redneck''); the latter, a lovable buffoon regrouping after a messy divorce, is the more vulnerable to negative TV ads until Jawinski's pollster finds three black male prostitutes who allege they have had sex with Luke (a charge Stevens has borrowed from the 1983 Mississippi gubernatorial race). Luke decides he should announce he's been sleeping with Matt's wife, Lisa (also a congressperson): ``It's counter-punch time or I'm belly up.'' It's a silly idea—though no sillier than Luke's media adviser shooting himself to distract attention from Jawinski's superior debate performance—and, typically, it goes nowhere; Stevens often toys with developments, then walks away from them. Similarly, a more serious story about Washington marriages pops up occasionally, only to be displaced by shenanigans. Stevens, himself a political consultant, knows the territory but doesn't have the wit or inventiveness to make it memorable in fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-87113-582-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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