Estévez’s first novel was a winner; his second resembles nothing so much as a very bad Fellini film.

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DISTANT PALACES

From the Cuban playwright, poet, and second-novelist (Thine is the Kingdom, 1999): a fantastical tale, published last year, that sees art both as a contrast with reality and a retreat from it is the subject.

The protagonist, ironically named Victorio, is a sexually timid gay man in his mid-40s who’s adrift in unfamiliar territory when forced to exit the condemned building in Havana in which he lives alone. Victorio is both sustained and challenged by memories of his late nurturing mother Hortensia and his absent father “Papa Robespierre,” whose ardent commitment to the 1959 Castro Revolution had estranged him from his wife and son—and also of El Moro, a dashing airplane pilot remembered as both indulgent mentor and disturbing sexual presence. Victorio (not quite credibly) bonds with teenaged street prostitute Isabelita (a.k.a. “Salma”), an ingenuous waif who envisions her future as a Hollywood goddess, and with Don Fuco, an elderly vaudevillian who schools them both in theatrical artifice and magic—performed as defiant responses to urban disrepair and public surrender to political exigency and repression. The change that thus overtakes Victorio (who decides “that the theater is the place for him”) is the realization of El Moro’s promise that a beckoning “palace” awaits every disadvantaged dreamer. But Victorio’s joy in performing is short-lived, as police close in on the abandoned theater housing Don Fuco and his minions. Distant Palaces is an allegory of aesthetic choice and commitment. Neither its slack plot nor its fey characters draw much reader empathy, and Estévez’s unaccountable fondness for vacuous declarations (“The only mystery of night is that it holds no mysteries,” etc.) is even more off-putting. The issue of Victorio’s embattled masculinity is intriguing, but it’s swallowed up in eccentricity and ostentation.

Estévez’s first novel was a winner; his second resembles nothing so much as a very bad Fellini film.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-55970-700-3

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2003

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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