LITTLE JINX

A painfully funny parable of loneliness, alienation, and crippling guilt by the ÇmigrÇ author of, among others, Soviet Civilization (1990) and the novel Goodnight! (1989). Tertz's dwarflike, woefully underqualified hero, Andrei Sinyavsky, shares his name with his pseudonymous creator—and that's about all he shares with anybody, from the moment he ``waived my right to goodness, fame, and fortune'' so that magical pediatrician Dora Aleksandrovna could cure his childish stutter. Once his tongue is loosed, little Sinyavsky, free to talk normally, launches into a profoundly third-rate career as a compulsive hack writer whose tale of how he played an accidental part in the deaths of all five of his older brothers—one drowned trying to save the fiancÇe who was trying to save Little Jinx; another got denounced and imprisoned for his anti-Stalinist response to his brother's enthusiastic burbling (``You really have a nook of the future here. It's a veritable Thomas More's Utopia!''), and so on—is peppered with reminiscences of his early successes (``Why We Like Ilya Isakovsky''), examples of poems that taught him ``a lot about life'' (`` `And so, she was called Tatiana'- -How beautifully expressed!''), and stunningly irrelevant aphorisms (``I think that automobiles are basically responsible for the current decline in the arts''), all faithfully rendered into fractured English by the resourceful translators. Spurned by another Dora who upbraids him for letting her get away, driven away by his grieving mother, bitten by the dog he's delivered of six puppies, Little Jinx finds comfort only when he identifies a well-upholstered store clerk as a new incarnation of Dora Aleksandrovna, who disappears after leaving him with a walnut chest presenting tantalizingly contradictory visions of his dead brothers' testimonials at his own wake. Gentler in its satire than the stories and essays that got Tertz five years in a Soviet labor camp: as winsomely, tearfully loony as the Gogol tales it recalls.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-8101-1016-4

Page Count: 78

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1992

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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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