Lichtenstein writes lucid prose that delivers a punch, but the redemptive resolution she offers at the end comes too quickly...

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When a man with Alzheimer’s goes missing in an unnamed Northeastern town on a cold January day, his wife finds common ground with the community’s search leader.

There is no mystery here. In the first pages, 11-year-old Corey, mute since he accidentally set the house fire that killed his older brother, finds a dead body in the snowy woods and protectively covers it with pine. The dead man is Christopher, an architect until dementia set. Christopher’s younger wife Susan, a microbiologist, blames herself for the unraveling of Christopher’s mind years before her adultery brought him to the edge of suicide, and she fears that a chemical reaction during that stressful time brought on the Alzheimer’s. As his ability to function weakened, she left her professorship and their close-knit college town, where she could not avoid her friends’ reactions, to live among strangers and care for him singlehandedly. The best writing in Lichtenstein’s second novel (The Genius of the World, 2000) describes in painful detail the unrelenting tragedy of Susan and Christopher’s daily life before his disappearance. Once Susan realizes that he has wandered off, the plot mechanics becomes creakily evident. While the police carry on a search, Susan increasingly depends on Jeff, the head of the search-and-rescue/recovery effort. A Vietnam Vet whose much younger wife Leanne left him the morning of Christopher’s disappearance for another man, Jeff is emotionally fragile himself. Coincidentally, he is also the Juvenile Arson Officer and thus involved with Corey. Although a judge ruled that Corey set the fatal fire accidentally, his family blames him, and in the course of the day Jeff learns that Corey’s grandparents refuse to keep him any longer. When Christopher’s body is found burned with kerosene, Corey is the obvious culprit.

Lichtenstein writes lucid prose that delivers a punch, but the redemptive resolution she offers at the end comes too quickly and out of nowhere, as if it were tacked on to this otherwise dark novel so that readers could feel less depressed.

Pub Date: March 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5982-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2010

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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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