Smith's book is a kaleidoscope whose suggestive fragments and insights don’t easily render a pleasing pattern, yet it’s...

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AUTUMN

From the Seasonal Quartet series , Vol. 1

A girl’s friendship with an older neighbor stands at the center of this multifaceted meditation on aging, art, love, and affection.

Smith (Public Library and Other Stories, 2016, etc.) opens this volume, the first of a planned quartet featuring each season, with a man washed ashore naked. He wonders if he is dead. He sees a girl nearby and sews himself some clothing from leaves after a needle and a bobbin of gold thread appear in his hand. From dream or fantasy, the narrative shifts to hard reality: the man, Daniel, next appears asleep in a hospital bed in the present time, age 101. His visitor is Elisabeth, age 32, a university lecturer in art history who has just endured the painful comedy of bureaucracy while trying to renew her passport at the post office. She met Daniel when she was 8 and needed to interview him for a school project. The book will jump around in time as Daniel introduces Elisabeth to puns, storytelling, and art, especially that of a woman he loved named Pauline Boty. She was an actual U.K. artist of the pop era who made a brief appearance in the movie Alfie. Her work included a portrait of Christine Keeler during the Profumo Affair, and Smith has fun with Keeler’s court appearances. History is also current, as Smith touches on the friction caused by Brexit nationwide (with a pointed opening allusion to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities) and in one town where some undefined menace arises with the installation of large electrified fences. Smith has a gift for drawing a reader into whatever world she creates, even when she bends the rules of fiction, as she did also in her previous novel, How to Be Both (2014).

Smith's book is a kaleidoscope whose suggestive fragments and insights don’t easily render a pleasing pattern, yet it’s compelling in its emotional and historical freight, its humor, and keen sense of creativity and loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87073-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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