A well-intentioned experiment that’s hobbled by its longueurs.

A HISTORY OF MONEY

A man recalls his past through the filter of money—often ill-gotten or badly spent—in this inventive if tangled tale.

The protagonist of this second translated novel by Argentine writer Pauls (The Past, 2003) opens his story at age 14, when he witnessed the funeral of a captain of industry who died in a helicopter crash under mysterious circumstances. The man was a family friend, but the narrator here and elsewhere isn’t interested so much in intimacies and relationships as financial connections: as he drills deeper into his past, he ponders the dead man’s attaché case full of cash, his father’s lifelong gambling habit, his mother’s ineptitude with money, and his own bad investment in a money pit. “Ponder” is the operative term here: Pauls writes in a recursive style built on long sentences with subclauses that aspire to Jamesian girth and gravitas. Credit Pauls for a rhetorical command that keeps these sentences from collapsing (and translator Robins for successfully preserving their integrity). At its best, the strategy conveys the gnarled and interior mental state that such financial fixation produces (in the early sections, the protagonist obsesses over the dead man’s irritating crostini-crunching); at its worst, and too often, it’s simply digressive, overexpanded navel-gazing. That’s all the more frustrating because buried under Pauls’ thickets of prose is a pointed commentary on the fragility of money and the oppressive Argentine politics of the 1960s and '70s. And Pauls can sensitively render the way money both bound and disconnected the novel's hero from his divorced parents. But when it comes time to bring the story to a strong emotional finish, the impact of the climax is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the prose; though short as a novella, it’s dense as an epic but without the widescreen effects.

A well-intentioned experiment that’s hobbled by its longueurs.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61219-423-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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