Not Kennedy’s shapeliest or subtlest book, but probably her best yet.

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The life of the writer is subjected to intensive and scathing analysis in this highly interesting (if more than a little overextended) third novel by the young Scots author of Original Bliss (1999), etc.

Kennedy’s two protagonists are Nathan Staples, an irascible writer who lives among a small colony of peers on remote Foal Island off the coast of Wales (and supports himself by cranking out Gothic “splatter” fiction)—and Mary Lamb, a hopeful young writer who comes to the island as its first scholarship student, remaining there for an entire seven years. What Mary doesn’t know is that she’s the daughter abandoned 15 years earlier, when Nathan left her and her mother Maura—a dereliction that the contrite Nathan now fictionalizes in an autobiographical novel-in-progress (New Found Land). This dual central situation does grow wearisome (although the novel-within-the-novel is quite beautifully written), but Kennedy has the good sense to keep distracting our attention from its redundancy with sharp portrayals of Nathan’s companions (including a hilariously disturbed “performance poet” and a good-natured mutt named Eckless), the most fully realized of whom is his alcoholic editor and drinking buddy, the affably self-destructive Jack Grace. The focus, though, keeps returning to Nathan’s patient stewardship of Mary’s sensibility and career (each year she spends under his tutelage is dedicated to following one of Nathan’s gnomic “rules”—such as “Pay attention to everything,” and “Do it for love”). Brief emphases on Mary’s upbringing (by her gay uncle and his love, in a small Welsh village) provide additional variation, but do not make her particularly believable as a budding writer (she’s actually a fairly generic 19-year-old). Oddly, it doesn’t matter: the tangle of secrecy, guilt, and irrational hope that underlies Nathan’s Prospero-like guardianship of the daughter he yearns to acknowledge makes of their intricate double story a moving illustration of “the impossibility of creation without love.”

Not Kennedy’s shapeliest or subtlest book, but probably her best yet.

Pub Date: July 26, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40791-X

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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