Genuinely moving yet amorphous, like a remembered fragrance that you can’t quite place.

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A disarmingly understated tale of mid-to-late-20th-century Long Island Catholics from McDermott, who has come to own this particular literary turf after five penetrating novels and a National Book Award.

Mary and John Keane meet in a Schrafft’s restaurant shortly after WWII, fall in love, marry and raise four children. Conventional, middle-class Catholics whose lives center on their neighborhood parish and their family, they have their quirks. Mary half-despises her “best friend” Pauline, a lonely alcoholic who plays spinster aunt to the Keane children. John names their eldest son Jacob, after a young Jewish soldier with whom he served in the war and whose death continues to haunt him. John and Mary have their differences, but their marriage is solid, while their protective, worried love for their children is palpable and real. John’s dismay that gentle, good-natured Jacob lacks the athletic or intellectual gifts of his younger brother Michael is particularly credible and well-rendered. Annie has a special connection with her mother, while youngest daughter Clare, whose emergency birth occurs at home with the help of a neighbor, forms a close bond with Pauline. As the children grow up through the ’50s and ’60s, their story ambles through disconnected, if charming, moments, like Mary’s trip with Annie to view the Pietà at the World’s Fair. When the kids reach adolescence, their lives give the narrative some forward momentum. Spunky, bookish Annie ends up in England with her British boyfriend. Jacob is killed in Vietnam. Michael becomes a teacher. Clare, a high-school senior, finds herself pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The novel closes with her wedding and the bittersweet possibilities it promises. McDermott (Child of My Heart, 2002, etc.) infuses the undulating plot with the knowledge that lives become most vivid in small moments of connection, flashlight beams (a recurring motif) illuminating the dark.

Genuinely moving yet amorphous, like a remembered fragrance that you can’t quite place.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-16809-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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