Not even a writer of McCall Smith’s benevolence can provide a happy ending for every character who deserves it here. But he...

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THE GOOD PILOT PETER WOODHOUSE

The creator of Mma Precious Ramotswe and chronicler of 44 Scotland St. (A Time of Love and Tartan, 2018, etc.) spins a heartwarming tale of love won and lost and won again during and after World War II.

Valerie Eliot, a member of the Women’s Land Army assigned to help out at Archie Wilkinson’s farm, falls in love with American pilot Mike Rogers, and he with her. They get engaged and she gets pregnant, though not in that order, but then Mike gets shot down over occupied Holland together with his unnamed navigator and their mascot, Peter Woodhouse, a sheepdog. Even as Val is painfully schooling herself to relinquish the flickering hope that her bridegroom is still alive, Mike, his navigator, and Peter Woodhouse are rescued by sympathetic locals and improbably protected by Cpl. Karl "Ubi" Dietrich, an occupying officer unsympathetic to the war who thinks its end is so near that there’s no point in killing them or turning them in. The end of the war that Ubi has so accurately forecast sends Mike and Peter Woodhouse back to Val in what would feel like a happy ending if it didn’t come at the story’s halfway point, but a surprising number of tests and tribulations still await Val, Mike, Ubi, and Peter Woodhouse. Indeed, this is one of the author’s most resolutely plotted novels since his rewriting of Emma (2015): although the characters display limited possibilities for development, the postwar world proves quite as challenging, and as generous in the opportunities it offers for love and courage and forgiveness, as the world at war.

Not even a writer of McCall Smith’s benevolence can provide a happy ending for every character who deserves it here. But he leaves you thinking that they’ve each had a bite of the apple and that all in all, that’s a pretty wonderful gift to have been granted.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4753-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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