THINE IS THE KINGDOM

The magical-realist example of Gabriel Garc°a M†rquez is only one of numerous literary influences to be detected (and often proudly displayed) in this exuberantly inventive first novel set in Cuba just before Castro’s Revolution. The action occurs in “the Island,” which is in fact a secluded enclave of Havana founded by “Godfather” Enrique Palacio and his sister Angelique, whose incestuous love bred a —monster” child dead soon after its birth. The Island now houses several eccentric extended families, including that of Cassandra-like “Barefoot Countess” Helena, her black husband Merengue, and his son Chavito, a sculptor whose imitations of familiar masterpieces litter the Island; that of retired opera singer Casta Diva, her inexplicably mute husband and troubled offspring; that of the sisters Mercedes, Marta, and Melissa, all variously deprived of normal health and sexuality; that of spinster teacher Miss Berta and her bedridden nonagenarian mother Dona Juana (a pun?)—these being only some of the principals. EstÇvez throws all together in a yeasty symbolic melodrama festooned with mysterious omens (an interminable rainstorm, a menacing stranger, a “Wounded Boy” evoking martyred St. Sebastian—while, just to complicate things, there are two characters named Sebastian) and skillfully crisscrossing plot lines whose resolutions vividly demonstrate that “Havana is the city where you comprehend, with almost maddening intensity, what it means to be ephemeral.” In addition to his creation of a moribund microcosm ripe for overthrow, EstÇvez offers an amusingly self-reflexive fiction whose engaging author mischievously involves us in his creation (“If the reader has no objection, it can be five in the afternoon”) and suggests through wry parallels (the tale of “Uncle Noel’s” ark, Mercedes’ wish that she were Dostoevsky’s Nastasia Filipovna) that his story is a composite of all earlier ones and he himself a reincarnation of Scheherazade and all the storytellers who followed her. Enticing literary gamesmanship from a remarkably accomplished new novelist.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-55970-451-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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