Despite many gorgeous turns of phrase and Styron’s masterful use of Caribbean dialect, All the Finest Girls is undone by...

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ALL THE FINEST GIRLS

Disappointing debut fiction from the daughter of William Styron: the story of a poor little rich girl who realizes that her beloved black nanny had a life outside her family’s palatial Connecticut home.

Addy Abraham, 32-year-old daughter of a famous philosopher and a beautiful actress, suffers from a crippling anxiety disorder that prevents her from forging close relationships, romantic or otherwise. But when her childhood nanny Louise dies, Addy takes a few pills and manages to quell her fears of travel and social interaction, then flies to the Caribbean island of St. Clair for the funeral. Ensconced in Lou’s hilltop home, Addy reflects on her own troubled childhood, learns something about the island’s political history, and meets the cast of characters featured in Lou’s long-ago stories—all of whom serve more as fodder for Addy’s insecurities and complaints than as actual, fully realized people. “You know what she used to call me? Her white daughter,” she tells Lou’s sons, Derek and Phillip. But the islanders don’t exactly treat her like a long-lost relation, and Addy is forced to question whether her love for Lou had actually been reciprocated. “ ‘Do yah evah tink about anyone but yahself? Yah must tink yah de only person in de goddamn world,’ ” Derek says to Addy when she tries to engage him in a conversation about her favorite subject (herself). Unfortunately, for the sake of the story, he’s right: Addy is so unbearably narcissistic and immature that it’s difficult to sustain interest in her thin plight. “God, I was sick of myself,” she thinks at one point, aptly echoing the reader’s sentiments.

Despite many gorgeous turns of phrase and Styron’s masterful use of Caribbean dialect, All the Finest Girls is undone by labored plotting and the sulky narrator-heroine’s lack of self-awareness—not to mention plain old awareness.

Pub Date: June 4, 2001

ISBN: 0-316-89080-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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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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