A raw, gritty, shiver-inducing—but very readable—account of a young man in a spiral of grief and self-destruction.

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THERE HAS TO BE A KNIFE

The debut from Canadian writer Khan offers a sharp, often disturbing primer on toxic masculinity.

Omar Ali is a 27-year-old line cook in Toronto. He gets a call from the father of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Anna, from whom he's been estranged. Anna has killed herself...and has, her father insists, left no note for Omar. The rest of the book depicts in often agonizing, sometimes darkly humorous detail the emotional disfigurements Omar suffers—or inflicts on himself—in the aftermath of her death. Omar's grief gets sublimated into violence (he's fired for brutally slapping a co-worker), sex (we get a blow-by-blow of his affair with Kali, a young woman who comes from a Hare Krishna family); crime (mainly petty theft); and rage-posting on the internet (he blows off steam by threatening terrorist violence on Reddit). Omar also reconnects with Hussain, an old neighborhood pal who's farther along the path to self-immolation—a little crueler, more unhinged, more alienated, and more reckless. After they break into a house, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police call on Omar. He's been under surveillance, so they have him over a barrel, but if he'll go visit local mosques and provide information, or if he'll help entrap his friend Hussain, they can keep him out of jail and provide cash. The portrait of Omar that emerges is hard to look at, and that's to Khan's credit; the inner lives of snarling, stunted, solipsistic man-boys aren't pleasant to see. Most fascinating are the ways Omar's status as a Canadian Muslim figure in. As he's well aware, for him there can be no such thing as a personal crisis, because the personal is always also political; there can be no alienation that doesn't also exacerbate his status as an alien in his own country and city, even his own skin.

A raw, gritty, shiver-inducing—but very readable—account of a young man in a spiral of grief and self-destruction.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55152-785-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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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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