Though less expansive than her last novel, Umrigar’s intimate portrayal of a mother and son divided by culture is a...

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IF TODAY BE SWEET

Umrigar’s latest (The Space Between Us, 2006, etc.) offers a tender portrait of a Bombay widow and her Americanized son, and the culture clash that ensues.

Tehmina Sethna has been emotionally adrift since her beloved, charismatic husband Rustom died. She was hoping to find some solace with her only child Sorab in Cleveland, but the long bleak winter and Sorab’s disapproving wife Susan has made the stay awkward at best. Sorab and Susan have invited Tehmina to leave Bombay for good, move in with them and start life anew, but there seems little on offer in America but bland opulence. Though her family is in America (including seven-year-old grandson Cavas) and Tehmina has a good friend in the spirited Eva Metzembaum, the lure of India and the memories she shared there with Rustom may prove more powerful than the ties of family. Umrigar shifts nicely between Tehmina and her son Sorab, who’s having problems of his own: In India there would be little question about Tehmina moving in with the family, but can the same deference be expected of an American wife? Acutely aware of Susan’s subtle complaints about Tehmina (she doesn’t rinse out the tub after each use, she’s too emotional about her dead husband), Sorab finds he’s becoming slightly afraid of his wife’s thin-lipped grimace. Furthermore, while his wife is suggesting they buy a larger house if Tehmina decides to stay, Sorab’s awful new boss is hinting his position is in jeopardy. Though Sorab and his Indian friends make for a vivid picture of assimilated life in the American Midwest, the story belongs to Tehmina, who must very soon make a decision about returning to Bombay (and all the vibrancy it represents) or staying with her remaining family. Though the ghost of Rustom is advising her, it is Sorab’s next-door neighbor who inadvertently helps Tehmina with her decision—a mother who is abusing her two young sons spurs Tehmina into action, helping her become the robust, independent woman she was before her husband’s death.

Though less expansive than her last novel, Umrigar’s intimate portrayal of a mother and son divided by culture is a convincing testament to the enduring power of place.

Pub Date: June 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-124023-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2007

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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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