Evocative tales of alternate realities steeped in the ethos of Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury.

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ACRES OF PERHAPS

Fabulist Ludwigsen (In Search Of and Others, 2013) returns with a fresh collection of surreal tales from the dark side.

As in his previous volume, Ludwigsen uses a popular television show as a rough framework for his eerie tales. This time, the early 1960s late-night show is called Acres of Perhaps and is clearly standing in as a cheaper, more oddball version of The Twilight Zone. Our narrator for this primary story is Barry Weyrich, a writer haunted by his perceived lack of talent or ambition. “I was just Barry Weyrich, the guy who wrote about spacemen in glass bubble helmets, who put the commas in everyone’s scripts, who never had writer’s block, who grimaced when they talked about 'magic,' " he tells us. His frenemy among the other writers is David Findley, an “eloquent drunk” whose expansive imagination fuels the show’s strangest episodes and who turns out, in the end, to not be quite whom he represented to his friends. A handful of interstitial entries scattered between four more stand-alone stories offer synopses of episodes from Acres of Perhaps along with wry show notes. “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” offers a peek inside the head of the Zodiac killer and his take on the moon landings. “The Leaning Lincoln” echoes some of Stephen King’s more grounded stories, with a tale of a small leaden toy that brings calamity with it. Other than the title story, the collection’s cleverest attraction is “Night Fever,” an oral history that imagines that Charles Manson was imprisoned during the 1960s and emerged fully obsessed with the Bee Gees in the days of disco. Ludwigsen ties things up with the elegiac “Poe at Gettysburg,” which imagines the erratic poet as president delivering a very different version of the Gettysburg Address.

Evocative tales of alternate realities steeped in the ethos of Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury.

Pub Date: April 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-159021-365-0

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Lethe Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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