A witty, warm and wise look at the human condition in the digital age.

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THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR

Goodman (Intuition, 2006, etc.) shows two sisters grappling with romantic, professional and moral quandaries at the height of the dotcom boom.

In the fall of 1999, Emily and Jess meet in Berkeley to celebrate Jess’s 23rd birthday—belatedly, because 28-year-old Emily is ten days away from the IPO of her data-storage company. Flaky philosophy grad student Jess is more interested in the sexy leader of Save the Trees than in buying shares of stock whose price, her sister assures her, “will go through the roof.” Across the continent in Cambridge, Mass., Emily’s boyfriend Jonathan, whose own startup encrypts web transactions, is confident that “we’re all going to be gazillionaires.” George is already rich, a “Microsoft millionaire” who used his fat dividends to launch Yorick’s Used and Rare Books, where Jess works part-time; he uneasily but longingly eyes his young employee, whose idealism challenges his middle-aged cynicism. Emily, though more practical than her sister, is also an idealist, horrified when one of her partners turns a data-monitoring program into an electronic surveillance system. When she makes the mistake of telling Jonathan about it, however, he’s not so scrupulous. Meanwhile, Jess helps George snag an astonishing collection of rare cookbooks, and dotcom stocks soar, then plummet as the bubble bursts in 2001. The formidably skilled and intelligent Goodman juggles multiple points of view to chronicle her characters’ intricate maneuvers for advantage and satisfaction; she even throws a pair of Bialystoker rabbis and some long-lost relations of Jess and Emily into the bustling plot. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny but always fundamentally serious, the novel takes a clear-eyed look at the competitive instinct and the profit motive as they clash with our equally strong need for love and connection. In the wake of 9/11 (whose aftermath is depicted with refreshing astringency), a wedding affirms the presence of joy without denying the reality of loss: “They held each other, although nothing stayed.”

A witty, warm and wise look at the human condition in the digital age.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-34085-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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