Brunkhorst’s bizarre debut fails to transmute her preoccupations into art.



A whimsical love story, heavy on the whimsy.

Somewhere out west, a plain, lonely girl is having her 11th birthday. Poor Zorka. This is the day her daddy will leave home for good and her mama, who adored him, will start to go gaga. Her schoolmates are not exactly supportive. Kris Tina Woo, a Korean immigrant, has tunnel vision. She wants to be an architect and is obsessed with the career of the mysterious Richard Dorsey, who designed nine striking buildings around the world, all unfinished. Even less helpful is Zoë, a spoiled rich kid who treats Zorka like a servant. That leaves her with 310 human-acting birds, fish and insects for comfort. Anthropomorphism is tricky; it requires no-nonsense characterization. But Brunkhorst is tentative where she should be bold, letting her creatures fade in and out of the story. When Kris Tina, now studying architecture at college, invites her friend to live in her modernist glass house, Zorka brings along the menagerie. She loses Tarantula on a shopping trip, only to discover him resting on Richard Dorsey, who is enchanted with both insect and owner. So begins a lopsided relationship between the world-weary architect, now in his 30s, and the naïve animal lover barely out of her teens. When Richard hugs Zorka in the greenhouse, the creatures give him a standing ovation. Yet the three strands of Brunkhorst’s narrative—the love story, the creatures, and the architectural enigmas—never feel fully integrated. The prose becomes increasingly gooey as the lovers kiss (“his breath smelled of freshly harvested raspberries”), dance in puddles, and pluck stars from the sky. In this porous world where anything goes, their time-travel back to 1959 is just one more what-the-heck experiment. Whatever the year, their romance is doomed, for Richard is still haunted by his first love, who abandoned him and caused him to abandon his buildings.

Brunkhorst’s bizarre debut fails to transmute her preoccupations into art.

Pub Date: July 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-31853-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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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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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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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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