FINDING MOON

In the darkest hour of the American withdrawal from Vietnam, a slow-horse newspaperman fights to rescue the niece whose existence he's just discovered—in this swift-moving tale from Navajo chronicler Hillerman (Sacred Clowns, 1993, etc.). The scene is familiar: the abrupt American departure in April 1975, followed within days by the fall of the Republic of Vietnam, the brutal ethnic cleansing in Cambodia by Poi Pot's Khmer Rouge, and the chaos that turns inoffensive villagers into refugees, fleeing the countryside with the Americans and the ARVN. But the hero swimming against this tide is new to the scene, and so is his author, whose bestselling novels about Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Det. Jim Chee hardly prepare for his most unheroic hero yet: portly, balding Malcolm "Moon" Mathias, whose life as managing editor of a third-rate Colorado daily is suddenly put on hold when his mother collapses en route to Manila and a search through her papers reveals that Moon's kid brother, Ricky, a hotshot civilian flier, left an infant daughter when he and his Vietnamese wife were killed in a helicopter crash. As Moon and the motley companions who cluster around him—Lum Lee, the elderly friend and "business associate" of Ricky's in search of a missing consignment from the helicopter; Osa van Winjgaarden, who's trying to rescue her brother from the martyrdom he's been thirsting for; George Rice, the pilot who didn't fly Ricky's daughter, Lila Vinh, out as planned; and Nguyen Nung, the ARVN deserter with "Kill Cong" tattooed on his chest—descend into the heart of the Mekong darkness, Hillerman exults in the swift geographical trajectory open to him outside the Navaho reservation. At the same time, it's clear why the novel isn't called Finding Lila Vinh: Moon's journey is also very much one into the past, and into the nonentity he's chosen all these years to be. A familiar tale, movingly told by a surprising voice.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 1995

ISBN: 0-06-017772-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1995

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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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