Pretty sick, but absorbing. Noir with a piquant exotic twist.

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I HAVE THE RIGHT TO DESTROY MYSELF

Alienation, ennui and self-destruction are perceived as artistic creations in this icy 1996 novel, its Korean author’s first in English translation.

The interactions, thoughts and fantasies of four protagonists interweave in a dreamlike narrative that eschews chronology and sequence, examining the role of “morbid desires, imprisoned deep in the unconscious” in each’s experience. A seemingly responsible video artist (C) contends with his brother (K), a cabdriver hooked on the thrill of “velocity,” for the attention of a mysteriously beautiful young woman who responds sexually to both, but who can choose neither man nor anything else to care about. Observing their several encounters is the unnamed narrator, an emotionless manipulator who offers to his “clients” the “service” of escaping the banality of existence. The endorsement of suicide is itself banality incarnate, as are such gloomy pronouncements as the woman’s petulant complaint that “people who can’t kill can’t ever truly love someone.” But the author is a stylish, inventive writer who builds eerie momentum out of cryptic conversations and deliberately imprecise characterizations. The brothers are both vividly differentiated and shown to possess similarly self-destructive traits. And the woman—a kind of Eternal Feminine temptress smiling and beguiling her way to oblivion—twirls around the text like a spinning jewel, appearing as an unresponsive drifter named Se-yeon, an avatar of the biblical heroine (and murderess) Judith as depicted by artist Gustav Klimt. The book’s dark doings are efficiently framed by descriptive allusions to famous paintings that celebrate death, and by the narrator’s assured orchestration of its siren call.

Pretty sick, but absorbing. Noir with a piquant exotic twist.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-15-603080-9

Page Count: 124

Publisher: Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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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