A discerning historical analysis combined with an affecting romance.

THE WIRE RECORDER

A love story explores the ramifications of McCarthyism during the Cold War. 

In this debut novel, Larry Hearn is a Hollywood screenwriter with a promising future. But in 1951, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenas him as part of its frantic search for seditious Communists infiltrating the film industry in the United States. He refuses to sell out his peers and defiantly rebukes questions about his membership in the Communist Party, instead delivering a rousing defense of his First Amendment protections. Larry’s rebelliousness, though, costs him his career. In the aftermath of his testimony, he’s blacklisted within the movie industry and never quite recovers professionally. His daughter, Sophie, is deeply affected by his experience, and after some shiftless years in college, she becomes the director of a private but tuition-free elementary school she envisions as an alternative to its racist, classist competitors. She eventually meets Steve Elwood—they were actually friends as very young children—an aspiring filmmaker, whose father, Arthur, was also a screenwriter blacklisted for his political affiliations. Sophie and Steve slowly fall in love, but their blooming romance is threatened by a dark secret in his family’s past, one that forces both of them to confront the different political legacies they inherited from their fathers. Levitt’s story is a historically sensitive rendering of an ideologically tempestuous time, and he’s to be commended for an impressively evenhanded portrayal unencumbered by obvious partisan allegiances. The author powerfully captures the profound paranoia of the early ’50s—one of Sophie’s grade-school teacher’s ominously remarks: “There are Communists right here in our community, living amongst us, plotting against us. Look at the movie industry. Communists and their fellow travelers are making movies again, just like they were in the forties.” In addition, the book’s authenticity is largely the result of its characters, drawn with realistic emotional complexity. But the plot’s pace is far too languorous—Sophie’s meandering before she becomes a teacher is described at luxurious length. Still, this is a keen peek into a tumultuous time in American history. 

A discerning historical analysis combined with an affecting romance. 

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9973107-0-2

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2018

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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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