I CAN'T WAIT ON GOD

The author of two previous novels (Billy, 1993; Holly, 1995) and a Vietnam memoir (Patches of Fire, 1997) returns to the Homewood section of Pittsburgh—familiar also to readers of John Edgar Wideman—for this tale of jazz, violence, and ghetto- porch culture. Panoramic in scope, and full of secondary characters, this Old-School’style narrative never fully coheres, but creates an indelible portrait of a back-alley neighborhood. Here, French captures the —hum— of —hush talk— that spreads like fire when a local hustler is robbed, gutted and thrown into the high weeds near the train tracks. Though the brutal white cops turn the community upside down, the regular folk know the culprits right away. Jeremiah Henderson, and his beautiful, high-yellow girlfriend, Willet Mercer, dream of New York City, and consider turning Willet out as a prostitute. When the much disliked Tommy Moses tries testing her, she’s so disgusted that she slices him up. With Tommy’s pocketful of cash, and his big car, they head first to North Carolina, where Willet hopes to see the son she abandoned at childbirth, who lives with her mother. Meanwhile, back in Homewood, the locals go about their routines: elderly Mr. Allen surveys the scene from his porch, while the women pass news over the fences; Dicky Bird with his pushcart and drunk Bill Lovitt pick junk along the roadside; and Mack Jack, a tall and brooding sax player, roams the streets, living inside the sounds, and bedding a few local women. The novel cuts back and forth between Mack Jack’s poetic interior life and Jeremiah and Willet on the road, creating a false expectation of some sort of convergence, but ends instead all too abruptly. Lots of set pieces reveal French’s narrative muscle, though the drug and jazz scenes can—t beat the recently rediscovered period fictions of Clarence Cooper or Herbert Simmons.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-48364-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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