A smooth read that succeeds as a case study of the failed promise of the baby boomers.

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The Blackfish Inheritance

In this debut novel, a son recounts his struggles living in the shadow of his famous father.

Wolfson tells the tale of Leon Perlman, beginning with his visit to see his elderly, caustic father, Vincent, wintering in Puerto Rico. From there, the novel circles back to little Leon growing up in a brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and attending private school. But all is not well: his author/playwright father is cruel to his meek mother, who eventually leaves, and mean to his three sons. Wintering in New York and summering on Cape Cod, Leon progresses through the rites of 1960s youth—sex (both voluntary and involuntary), drugs, and a first job. Then he lights out for California, befriending the owner of a plumbing company who understands Leon’s “unspoken sorrow” and gives him a position. Leon endures the taunts of blue-collar co-workers, quits, and becomes an insurance agent—giving him what he calls “a license to steal”—until he breaks down and “just can’t do it anymore.” Returning back East, he bears up under his father’s “cutting criticisms” and the “essential disharmony and chaos” of Perlman family life. He bounces around teaching jobs in New England but returns to the Cape with his wife and daughter, working as a school bus driver. After his father dies in a fire, Leon inherits the old man’s Cape property, and he consults a psychic and several Native Americans to exorcise his father’s lingering presence there. The book ends with fuzzy snapshots of Wolfson, his wife, daughter, and father. The author has produced a richly detailed, deftly written book. He’s particularly adept at descriptions of places, from LA’s “indistinguishable small cities oozing down” along the freeways to lyrical portraits of the Cape’s sweeping landscape, and of people, too: a woman with bad makeup is described as looking like “an open burned marshmallow.” It’s not always clear why Leon is so resentful of his father, but in his narcissistic and petulant moments, he resembles no one as much as Vincent, albeit in diluted form. Leon’s story sometimes threatens to become a self-pitying tale of his wrestling with his personal demons, but Wolfson effectively lightens this chronicle of family dysfunction with subtle humor. Overall, the book raises more questions than it answers, which isn’t a bad thing.

A smooth read that succeeds as a case study of the failed promise of the baby boomers.

Pub Date: April 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-37197-8

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Loagy Bay Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2015

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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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