THE FIRST CIRCLE

It seems clear that the works of rebellious Soviet writers have passed from the period of the "thaw" to that of power politics on an international scale. Certainly, Solzhenitsyn's world famous account of a Siberian labor camp, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, saw print principally because Khrushchev was able to use it as an anti-Stalinist ploy. Now with much fanfare, and against the wishes of the Kremlin, we have a "pirated" edition of The First Circle, probably Solzhenitsyn's major effort, a novel not only anti-Stalinist in strategy, or even anti-Soviet, but, at least in sensibility, profoundly anti-Communist as well. True, Rubin, one of the noblest characters, defends the faith, but he does so pretty much the way those Irishmen in Joyce defend Catholicism, all the while wishing to rid Ireland of churches and priests. Of course, despite the sly attitudes taken towards Marx or the scornful glimpses of Western fellow-travelers, what Solzhenitsyn really mourns is not les dieux ont soif, not the revolution consuming its children. Rather, like his "renegade" brethren, Pasternak and Pilnyak, Zamyatin and Bulgakov, for Solzhenitsyn what haunts the Bolshevik Heartbreak House is the wreckage of cultural continuity and individuation, the abandonment of reason to terror. Thus, his mammoth tale (the setting is Moscow and a grubby scientific institute where the technicians are political prisoners), though arranged in interlocking, multi-leveled scenes, and all manner of narrative incidents and types, ultimately draws its sustenance from one figure, the skeptical, inwardly sorrowing, unsubmissive Nerzhin, the hero as victim, the "survivor" with honor. Against him, in a short but extraordinary sequence, stands "The Boss," maniacally menacing, with burlesque touches: "Before a big war," says Stalin, "a big purge is necessary." Solzhenitsyn's not a graceful writer; in everything but ideology he's close to socialist realism. Still, at his best, he has composed a sardonic, shattering work, with the memorable scenes between prisoners ironically rivaling those in Gorky's The Lower Depths.... From Tsarist Russia to "The Boss," what a painfully repetitive uphill struggle, what a terrible world.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1968

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1968

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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