A carefully wrought take on death, love, and other profundities in a small town tries but fails to move or matter. In structure and language, McGhee's debut is more a prose portrait than a conventional novel. Various figures mourning the death of one man, Starr Williams, express their memories and responses to his death in evocative fragmentsfragments that, rather than a sustained narrative, cumulatively work to create an elegiac mood of healing and acceptance. When 30-year-old Starr dies trying to save Johnny, a retarded boy (and his unacknowledged son), from an oncoming truck, the people who've loved Starr react to his death in different ways. Crystal, Johnny's waitress mother, who saw the accident from the diner where she works, is the most philosophical about Starr's deathbut then he'd moved out of her life 12 years earlier when he left her pregnant and went off with Lucia, whom he later married. Crystal gave birth to Johnny alone in her trailer and has passed him off as her nephew. Lucia, meanwhile, not only mourns Starr but also her parents, who were killed when she was three; Tim, Starr's art-teacher father who has some bittersweet secrets of his own, is still grieving for his wife Georgia, who died in a car crash on a nearby mountain road a few years back; and nine-year-old Mallie, Starr and Lucia's daughter, overly imaginative and obsessed with ritual, believes its her fault he died because she failed to hug him that day. She hides Starr's ashes, keeps lists about him, and, desperately believing in reincarnation, on a visit to China with Tim looks for Starr in every Chinese baby she sees. As the months pass, secrets are shared, hurts forgiven, and life without Starr, even for Mallie, becomes more bearable. Less-than-credible charactersStarr being the most unconvincingremember and forgive in anodyne ways in a debut that, for all its evocations of feeling, remains emotionally dry-eyed.

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-57601-006-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1998

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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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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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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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