Makes a valid point in its cheerful, insipid way.

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SWEET HOME CAROLINA

Ocean’s latest young-single-woman saga (after Fool Me Once, 2005) takes an Atlanta PR professional down to the South Carolina boondocks.

“It’s the simple things . . . that pull heartstrings,” croons the book’s corny epigraph, and what’s at stake here is the future of small-town America, struggling to remain viable in the face of an all-devouring corporate economy. Jaxie Parker, a hot young executive at Shine Advertising and Public Relations, is ecstatic to be living on her own in the “big city” (Atlanta) and too focused on her career to mess with long-term relationships. But when agency owner Aaron Ackworth chooses her for the pro-bono task of spending a month on a revitalization mission in his deteriorating hometown, Rumton, S.C., Jaxie reluctantly switches from Versace pantsuits to shorts and bare feet. Although two miles from the ocean, Rumton (originally, Rum Towne) is landlocked and deserted save for a few tenacious barnacles who hang out at the Chat ’N Chew. Among them is “Pompous” Pop, a kindly old widower who keeps a raccoon named Bandit, lets Jaxie stay for free and even cooks for her. Pop’s gay nephew, Avery, an environmental consultant, reveals the nearby presence of a shipwreck, the Aldora. Avery’s gorgeous brother, Justin, who just happens to be the head of research at Jaxie’s agency, appears in Rumton to offer his services, romantic and otherwise. Meanwhile, Jaxie and the town residents learn that developer Lester Smoak has been buying up land to build a casino, with the approval of Mayor Riley. When the mayor turns up dead, suspicions mount over ex-con Lester, whose ties to Jaxie’s employer are shockingly revealed. Then Hurricane Hailey speeds up the coast, threatening to open a long-closed waterway as well as wash up the Aldora’s buried treasure, which will salvage the town.

Makes a valid point in its cheerful, insipid way.

Pub Date: May 16, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-34334-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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