Sometimes choppy narrative, ditto tiresome dialogue, and ponderous chapter headings (“As They Flee You’d Think They Float on...



Despite flaws, this second from Nissen (The Good People of New York, 2001), about alcohol-sodden year-rounders on a resort island in the Northeast, shows that she can deliver a compelling and layered tale.

Osprey Island in the summer of 1988 is home to an inbred ensemble of characters centered on a family-oriented hotel. Bud and Nancy, who run the Lodge, are at odds with their rebellious daughter Suzi, who’s vacationing there with her six-year-old daughter, Mia. Lorna and Lance, the Lodge’s housekeeper and head of maintenance, seem to be drinking themselves to death while neglecting their son Squee, age eight. Roddy, who grew up with Lance and Suzi but left the island for a while, is back, working at the Lodge. Gavin, a wealthy California kid, has followed his Stanford girlfriend back home to the island to work as a waiter in a Dirty Dancing reversal, only to be dumped for her high-school boyfriend. Brigid and Peg, two young Irishwomen with summer jobs at the Lodge, have come to the island in search of adventure. Nissen starts with some roiling family secrets (Did Roddy go to Vietnam or not? Who’s the father of Lorna’s child? Of Suzi’s? Why does Eden know so much?), adds booze and libido, and sets off impressive fireworks. Suzi is drawn to Roddy; Brigid has her eye on Lance but goes after Gavin. Lorna, drunk, falls asleep with a lit cigarette and dies in the laundry shack as it burns down around her. Unmoored, Lance indulges his violent streak. And, in a particularly well-drawn take on an island’s collective awareness, everyone wonders: What will happen to Squee?

Sometimes choppy narrative, ditto tiresome dialogue, and ponderous chapter headings (“As They Flee You’d Think They Float on Wings”) don’t quite obscure Nissen’s acute sense of the messy ambivalence of love, while her depiction of a child’s grief is heartbreaking. A perfectly satisfying if imperfect summertime read.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41146-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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