Extremely readable, but thoroughly unpleasant.



Grim, gripping fiction from Hegi (Sacred Time, 2003, etc.) about childhood friends whose triangular relationship goes horribly wrong.

Annie drives around eastern Long Island at night, listening to psychologists’ call-in programs to distract herself from the horror of her husband Mason’s recent suicide. He hung himself in Annie’s studio, among her collages so she’d never be able to work there again, making sure that she would be the one to find him. And he did it after he’d goaded her and their best friend Jake into an act (unspecified at first, but it’s clear what happened) that prompted Annie to tell Mason their marriage was over. We quickly learn that Mason has threatened suicide before when he didn’t get his own way and that he’s pathologically jealous. The narrative intermingles past and present—including a pre-suicide monologue by Mason—to show the three children growing up in adjacent houses; the tensions that arose from Jake’s mother providing paid day care for Annie and Mason; fraught teenage years of shifting sexual alliances; the death of Annie’s parents in a car accident on her wedding day, leaving 19-year-old Annie and Mason to raise her newborn sister Opal as their daughter; Annie’s struggle to deal with Mason’s suicide, her guilt and Opal’s furious bereavement. Every development demonstrates that Mason was, from childhood, a sociopath: greedy, selfish, a liar and a manipulator. The problem—and it’s a big one—is that we never see the charm that must have accompanied his pathology, so it’s very hard to understand why the other two didn’t dump him years ago. Despite this major plausibility issue, the story compels by virtue of its sheer velocity and a host of well-drawn subsidiary characters. But a heavily foreshadowed final revelation isn’t the epiphany Hegi seems to intend, and any hope suggested by Annie and Jake’s reconciliation is decidedly dampened by the chilling portrait of Opal, who appears to have acquired by example Mason’s tendency to threaten and punish.

Extremely readable, but thoroughly unpleasant.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4375-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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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