An enticing romantic melodrama—about a beautiful, doomed woman and her varied effects on those who love her and struggle to save her—from Canadian author Findley (Headhunter, 1994; Stones, 1990, etc.). Lily Kilworth is remembered with affectionate wariness by her illegitimate son, Charlie, following her death (in 1939) in a fire in an Ontario asylum. Marshalling his own memories of her, together with information elicited from others, Charlie pieces together his mother's family background and history in a fervent attempt to learn the identity of his father and to understand Lily's mysteriously divided nature. It's a sweeping story, beginning in 1889 with the seduction of Lily's mother Edith (``Ede'') by a traveling piano-salesman, her lover's accidental death, and Ede's later marriage to his brother; the narrative bristles thereafter with a succession of passionate surrenders to impulse, grievous illnesses, untimely deaths, and recurring signs of Lily's ``madness''—in part the inherited ``falling sickness'' (or epilepsy) that keeps her forever on the fringes of respectable society. Life in Canada from the 1890's to the 1930's is evoked in convincing detail, and Findley's characterizations are both effectively specific and satisfyingly opaque. But it's all a bit too self-consciously Brontâan (there is, in fact, a revealing allusion to this influence in the names given a trio of housemaids). Tramplings by horses, convulsions, brain tumors, premonitions of death by fire, among other excesses, make for an overheated narrative—even granting the central presence of a heroine who once ``absolutely believed Elizabeth Barrett Browning was in possession of her being.'' We feel the fascination Lily Kilworth exerts over people, but we never fully believe the gothic circumstances that overtake them. No great shakes as a literary performance but, nonetheless, a generally absorbing saga that will probably be much in evidence around the beaches this summer. It's a cut above R.F. Delderfield and Daphne du Maurier, and one or two below Jane Eyre.

Pub Date: June 12, 1996

ISBN: 0-517-70307-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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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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