A predictable tale of immigration that offers easy answers to complex questions about national identity and racial hatred.


The Cycle of Blame

Ding explores the roots of anti-immigrant racism in his debut novel.

Two men, Sam and Diego, grow up on opposite sides of the American dream. Sam is the son of a Detroit-area factory worker; Diego, the son of a Mexican immigrant in thrall to a drug cartel. Sam’s father loses his job when the factory closes, while Diego’s father struggles to free his family from a life of gang violence; Sam ends up xenophobic, and Diego, a ward of the state. The two describe their lives in alternating first-person accounts until Sam moves to San Diego, where he transforms into a hateful immigration-enforcement officer with epiphanies such as, “How could we let people just come over here and harass families?....And most weren’t violent? What about the ones that were?” Diego, meanwhile, takes up residence with a foster family that’s a caricature of rural dysfunction, including a tattoo-encrusted foster father named Zeke who beats him with belts and even a broomstick. Ding’s prose is clear and occasionally evocative. However, he sometimes succumbs to clichés (“He felt the stinging breath of Sebastian the Beast on his neck”) and overwriting (“It was an empty, dirty cave—a desiccated temple dedicated to the disheartened and disenfranchised men who forewent education for the promises of stability and a good wage”). The awkwardness of some sentences seems to have resulted from inadequate proofreading, as in “And I felt well-prepared to tackle it I.” Although attempting to expose the origins of racism is an admirable goal, many readers may find its insights obvious—for example, that anti-immigrant rage is often fueled by economic turmoil. In the end, the book becomes a passion play with characters that are mere functions of the narrative: Sam hates foreign people, Diego is one. The book’s climax, like San Diego itself, is visible from miles away.

A predictable tale of immigration that offers easy answers to complex questions about national identity and racial hatred.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500701680

Page Count: 218

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2015

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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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