Readable and mildly engaging, but not the kind of cutting-edge work we expect from Gibson.

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SPOOK COUNTRY

The SF innovator follows up his mainstream success (Pattern Recognition, 2003) with another novel set in the near-present, as three separate groups chase after a mysterious freight container.

Hollis Henry, erstwhile singer for a disbanded rock group, the Curfew, is now a freelance journalist with a baffling assignment from Node, a startup magazine that is remarkably averse to publicity. She’s researching “locative” art in Los Angeles, though her employer seems mostly to be interested in the GPS expertise of a guy who facilitates this high-tech virtual- reality genre. Tito belongs to a family of Chinese-Cuban immigrants involved in criminal enterprises in New York, aided by knowledge of Russian gained from a grandfather who worked with Soviet emissaries (and the CIA) in Havana. Milgrim is a drug addict who had the misfortune to be plucked from the streets by Brown, a creepy government operative who keeps him prisoner to take advantage of Milgrim’s linguistic skills, needed to decode text messages in a Russian-based artificial language sent among Tito’s family members. Gibson excels as usual in creating an off-kilter atmosphere of vague menace: Hollis’s wealthy employer and the old man to whom Tito is passing iPods initially seem as sinister as Brown. And the narrative features the author’s characteristically shrewd observations about everything from global piracy to conspiracy junkies to cultish rock fans. But the characters are vivid two-dimensional sketches rather than human beings, and the plot turns out to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy about getting back at the idiots and corporate crooks currently raking in the boodle in Iraq. There are some lovely metaphors and sharp insights as everyone converges on a Canadian port where Tito and his cohorts will do something to the container before Brown and his cohorts can get hold of it. But when the mists of mystification clear, what’s revealed isn’t very interesting.

Readable and mildly engaging, but not the kind of cutting-edge work we expect from Gibson.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2007

ISBN: 1858788900

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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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