An intriguing premise marred by awkward pacing and an overwrought style.



A woman raised in a Vietnamese military camp must reclaim her identity in this debut novel.

In 1997, when she's 7, the unnamed narrator is taken to a military camp where her mother, a reform-minded energy consultant, is hiding from her political enemies. There, the girl forms relationships that will shape the rest of her life. Her mother, engrossed in her mission of bringing electricity to Vietnam, alternately ignores her and berates her. A young soldier assigned to protect the mother and daughter offers the girl emotional support and a nurturing, stable presence. But the girl’s most intense relationship is with a friend she refers to only as “the little girl,” who is being sexually abused by her father. The narrator happily participates in her friend’s fantasies: “My life depended on whatever imagined role the little girl gave me.” But a rift forms between the girls when the narrator, now 13, is abruptly whisked to the U.S. In 2012, the narrator works in a cafe in New York and constructs facsimiles of her past relationships: She follows a man who reminds her of her soldier, moves into his apartment building, and befriends him. And she falls into an intense, erotically tinged relationship with a woman named Lilah. “I stared at [Lilah’s] back, her narrow and boyish hips, and wondered what the little girl might look like as a woman.” The narrator agrees to become a surrogate mother for Lilah and her husband, Jon, a decision that ultimately leads her back to Vietnam to confront her past. The novel is an exploration of the way people co-opt others for their own ends, and it’s satisfying when the narrator finally gains clarity on the way her life has been warped to reinforce fantasies, both her own and other people's. But the story is filled with clumsy melodrama, with the prose trending a deep, bewildering purple: “The acme of all love was abandonment, the only point at which we would fulfill the promise of immortality, to persist in our love for those who are absent, into oblivion.”

An intriguing premise marred by awkward pacing and an overwrought style.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60945-521-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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 modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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