Edited by London literary agent Peake, a mostly British collection of stories exploring the rough-and-tumble terrain of seduction, marred by pretentious prose and an overly studied approach. Each of the 12 tales delves into the passions, patterns, compulsions, illusions, displays, and emotions that lead to sex, love, and, more often than not, betrayal. Many of these protagonists are hyperintellectuals who see sex as an animal need rather than a means of connecting. In ``Soft Sell—a Fantasy'' by A.L. Barker, a scholar who published a definitive history of seduction (from Cro-Magnon to Common Market man) becomes tediously self-important as she exploits her position as a Privileged Customer for a Catalogue that states ``we will make possible for you anything which is possible at all'' to engage the attentions of a thoroughly uninterested salesman. Will Self's ``Incubus: or The Impossibility of Self-Determination as to Desire'' is more compelling: A philosopher studying the impossibility of free will manages to break free of his marriage and sleep with his doting research assistant—but only in a drunken haze that prevents him from recalling any of it. Other protagonists are less interested in the act of sex itself than in their capacity to be seduced. In ``Strategy and Siege,'' by Damon Galgut, a 53-year-old historian whose wife has just left him takes an uncharacteristic trip to the nation of Lesotho in southern Africa and finds himself running after an overweight farm girl he had previously rejected. Francis King's ``Sukie'' shows aging Dr. Middleton being taken in by a less-than-attractive con artist, despite the fact that he considers his years of adventure behind him. While these are potentially tender topics, neither author delves deeply enough into the protagonists' psyche to make their actions meaningful. Indeed, most stories here fail to go beyond the titillating surface of seduction to explore the potentially powerful underpinnings of basic emotions. As meaningful as a one-night stand.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 1995

ISBN: 1-85242-314-5

Page Count: 221

Publisher: Serpent’s Tail

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 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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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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