THE HOOKMEN

First-novelist Hillmer has written a coming-of-age tale that's also an adventure yarn, a romance, and a sensitive portrayal of how men relate to each other. The surprise is that it all works. Unable to find other employment, 19-year-old Roy signs on with Kern River Search and Rescue—known unofficially as the hookmen because of the grappling hooks they use to pull the bodies of drowned campers and tourists from the turbulent waters of the Kern. The crew is led by an acerbic old man named Crawdad. Under his tutelage, Roy becomes a skilled rafter and pushes himself to acts of physical courage. He finds an enigmatic friend in crewmate Walker, a Vietnam veteran who obsessively kayaks the most forbidding stretches of the river and creates twisted abstract sculptures. Roy, in turn, is haunted by the faces of the river's victims—especially the first one he sees, a young woman who looks as if ``one touch could bring her back. One kiss.'' Meanwhile, his mother and sister have moved away from his father, fleeing his drunken rages, and Roy assumes financial and emotional responsibility for him. When he meets Rita, a vulnerable woman with a secret past, they begin, cautiously, to fall in love. With Rita, he finds tenderness and shares an appreciation of the California wilderness. She shows him her cherished part of the river, a serene spot where graceful herons nest, and her delicate drawings of them. When Crawdad asks Roy and Walker to join him on his dream trip of rafting the perilous rapids and cataracts of the upper Kern, all of their destinies intertwine. Events culminate in a breathtaking daredevil expedition that brings resolution to a long-simmering dispute between Crawdad and Walker, and to Roy's relationships with Rita and his father—but not without a surprising and tragic consequence. With its counterpoint of brawny action and poetic description, this finely honed novel has all the pleasing contradictions of the river itself.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-87081-348-X

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. Press of Colorado

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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