THE NEWS FROM IRELAND

AND OTHER STORIES

Another Trevor collection of short stories is always good news, and here in these 12 tales (many previously published in The New Yorker), the author again attends to the usually sad, small defeats of victims caught in the consequences of distant searing events, betrayed by their own wrong turns or, worse, simple inadequacy. In the title story, set in Ireland in 1847-48, a dry leaf of a "poor Irish" Protestant butler acts as a kind of persistent guide and prophet to the poverty, starvation, misery and horror of the ravished Irish countryside outside the English-occupied estate of a blandly oblivious, newly arrived English family. The soul he would turn back to England is the governess, a young woman of "principle and sensibility," another in a long line of Ireland's "visitors and strangers." Will she listen? Yes, reluctantly, and she'll be "sick at heart." But like her employers and other destroying strangers, she will, by the close, "learn to live with things." Joureys to times past bring illumination but also loss. In "Virgins" two middle-aged women meet in Italy, too late to ever find again their joyous girlhood friendship in Ireland—drawn apart long ago by the feverish wiles of a dying boy. Yet "that friendship. . .ran deeper than [their] marriages." Torment for torment is the destiny of a young hotel-heir who discarded his lover because of caste and cowardice; and in "On the Zattere," an elderly widower and his daughter, the latter wasted by a self-serving lover, are trapped in a stasis of silent anger. Love is elusive: "Mr. Robin Right" is always just around the corner for an aging chorine; and in Florence, a middle-aged woman disappears (probably dead), and the man she desired, hopelessly impotent, muses on their "affair": "She had arrived at the happiest moment of love, when nothing is destroyed." The dream lies forever out of reach; one simply "settles"; and parents doom children to fear and hatred. As always, Trevor, the consummate storyteller, writes with skill and compassion as he scrupulously weighs the press and passions of time and event on restless lives straining after illusions—or held by the potency of an evil never fully understood.

Pub Date: May 1, 1986

ISBN: 0140088571

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1986

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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