Stylistically nuanced and psychologically astute, this tight, dense novel gives complex history a human face.

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PLAYING IN THE LIGHT

Uninvited but unavoidable, the ghosts of politics past haunt the living in this deep and subtle novel about the wary interracial relationship of two Capetown women.

A “decent” Afrikaner, Marion Campbell tries her hardest to play it safe. But safety isn’t really an option in post-apartheid South Africa, argues Wicomb (David’s Story, 2001, etc.). Proud proprietor of a mid-sized agency dubbed MCTravel, Marion confines her own journeying to a restricted circuit of sites. Sparing herself the “dubious hygiene of hotels” and the intrusiveness of strangers, she prizes routine: visiting her aging father, a former traffic cop now well “past the fury of manhood,” and lolling on the balcony of her tasteful beachfront apartment. It’s on that balcony that a bird suffers a heart attack, dying among the pricey scatter cushions: The accident presages drastic change, soon brought about by young Brenda McKay. MCTravel’s first black employee, Brenda treads “a delicate boundary between respect and mockery” before erupting over the staff’s myopia regarding the country’s troubled history: “You couldn’t imagine yourself then as one of the underdogs.” Shortly thereafter, Marion manages a fender-bender with a brand-new BMW; her date with a new easygoing boyfriend turns rocky as he begins to realize that she’s “difficult”; and she’s flooded with disturbing memories of Helen, her disapproving mother who’d recently died of cancer, and fond reminiscences of Tokkie, the black woman who tended her as a child. In time, as her world unravels, Marion comes to discover that she’s unwanted in both the familial and political senses. Revelations from the government’s aptly named Truth and Reconciliation Commission set off a series of painful epiphanies by means of which Marion learns hard lessons about her father, South Africa, Brenda and herself.

Stylistically nuanced and psychologically astute, this tight, dense novel gives complex history a human face.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59558-047-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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