A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about...



Born into a family of circus acrobats, Olympia Knife is unique in more ways than one. As she struggles to control her tendency toward literal invisibility, she must also navigate her burgeoning love for the newest star of the circus: Diamond the Danger Eater.

Constantine’s (Sweet, 2016) second novel opens with the midact, midair disappearance of Alban and Julia, the Flying Knifes, as their young daughter watches from the trapeze platform. Olympia has been raised in the tightknit nucleus of the Stephens Great Attraction traveling circus, where her sporadic transparency blends in with the unique gifts of the fabulous Minnie the Fat Lady, Madame Barbue the Bearded Woman, Robin the Rubber Boy, and many others. As the book progresses, she is forced to confront the impermanence of even the closest of these relationships as, one by one, the members of her circus family begin to vanish into the ether. At the same time, Olympia finds herself falling in love with a mysterious newcomer—Diamond, who performs a dashing sword-swallowing act—and transforming her own identity into that of Nova the Half Man. As she struggles to navigate her unfamiliar emotions, her fluctuating visibility, and the unravelling of her livelihood when the circus grinds to a denuded halt, Olympia must thrust herself into the forefront of her life in order to preserve her own place within it. Though there is a tremendous amount happening in this novel, the similarity in the back stories of the characters, as well as a tendency to narrate even the most climactic of injuries, consummations, and murders in the same expository tone, renders the book hazy. The powerful central theme is similarly blurred by inconsistencies in the main characters' development (Olympia is both mousy and bold, Diamond both daring and prone to collapse in indecisive tears) and plot progression issues that find characters spending entire chapters rising from bed only to sink back into the same bed, exhausted, without much happening in between.

A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about inclusion and identity but succeeds instead in crafting a series of more-or-less familiar freak-show character sketches.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945053-27-6

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Interlude Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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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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