THE BOOK OF NIGHTS

Germain's sixth book is her first to appear in English: a poetic saga that sweeps its way through a century of French history by following the generations of a symbol-rich family. First in the publisher's new Verba Mundi series of modern-world literature. ``In those days the Peniels were still fresh-water people,'' begins the story, sometime before 1870 and the Franco-Prussian War. A riverman who captains a barge named The Mercy of God all but gives up on fatherhood before his wife Vitalie, following six stillbirths, delivers a fine boy—and the saga begins. Theodore- Faustin Peniel, soft of voice and shy of manner, will grow up, marry out of passionate love, have children, but then become changed forever when he's hideously deformed in the battle of Sedan. Madness, sorrow—and incestuous love with his own daughter- -will result in the birth of Victor-Flandrin, who because of a fleck of gold in his left eye is known as ``Night-of-Gold.'' In time, carrying with him seven tears wept by his father and the quivering light of his mother's shadow (which protects him even from a wolf), Victor-Flandrin settles in a farm village called Blackland—where he will have 15 children by five wives, and live through WW I (although a son won't) and WW II (although many, including a wife and children, won't) before his own humble and yet majestic death. Germain succumbs at times to a pseudo-biblical saga-style (``And their hearts in turn had taken root, even flowering like wild roses...''), or descends to a philosophic rudimentism (``Only the earth remained inalterably the same...''), but her genuine lyric and narrative powers—a bleeding birthmark, a tamed wolf, grievous deaths, miraculous loves—on balance keep her craft grandly asail. Sometimes short on inner energy, but, overall, a gloriously beautiful, gem-studded tapestry of human desire and suffering.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-87923-975-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1993

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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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