Sensitive and finely written.

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THE BIRD SKINNER

A visit from a wartime companion’s daughter stirs up unwelcome memories for an embittered ornithologist in this follow-up to Greenway’s Los Angeles Times Book Award–winning debut White Ghost Girls (2006).

Ignoring his doctor’s warnings to quit drinking and smoking, Jim Carroway winds up having a leg amputated in the winter of 1973. No longer able to get around Manhattan independently, he abruptly abandons his work at the American Museum of Natural History and retreats to his childhood summer home on Fox Island in Maine. Jim seems likely to drink himself to death there, perhaps as penance for the unspecified disaster that claimed his wife, Helen, many years earlier, perhaps to finally extinguish the bleak knowledge that “[h]e’d been stuck since the war.” He’s not thrilled to be distracted by the arrival of Cadillac, whose father, Tosca, worked with Jim as a scout in the Solomon Islands, preparing for the U.S. invasion in the summer of 1943. Cadillac is headed to medical school at Yale, and it gives Jim some pleasure to know that the bird-skinning skills imparted to Tosca long ago played a role in lifting his family from poverty and getting his daughter educated. But bleak memories—of Jim’s mean, judgmental grandfather; of his beloved, ultimately doomed Helen; of his grim experiences on Layla Island—make it clear how damaged Jim is. The foreboding mood is somewhat alleviated by the tender friendship that grows between Cadillac and Jim’s son Fergus, but frequent references to Hemingway and to Treasure Island (a book with which Jim is obsessed) do not bode well. Readers who don’t mind the novel’s leisurely pace and brooding tone will appreciate Greenway’s limpid, poetic prose; her richly nuanced portraits of a nicely varied cast of characters on both Fox and Manhattan islands; and her evocative depiction of natural landscapes and the birds whose study gave Jim the only peace he has known.

Sensitive and finely written.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2104-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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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