With little decoration and an easy touch, Prantera offers a charming, if limited, comedy of matured love and virtuous...

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DON GIOVANNA

Prantera (Letter to Lorenzo, 1999, etc.) gathers a middle-aged cast of characters to enact an amateur version of Mozart’s well-known opera, touching with gentle humor on that work’s themes of the heart’s durable passion in competition with the mortal limits of body and time.

“You’ve only got to think of how people in extreme situations . . . club together to stage an entertainment: it’s not for the spectacle, it’s for those taking part,” one character aptly observes. Set in Italy, the story begins as failing novelist and philosopher Lord Henry Thirsk agrees to stage a benefit production of the opera—partly as a distraction from his own stalled writing career and partly to enthuse a touch of vigor into his 56 year-old life. Gaia, his younger wife, is delighted: even as she carries a thinning hope for his fiction work, she frets that his love for her has declined, thus clouding the possibility that they’ll ever have children. Enter Joanna, an artist and set designer on leave from her tortured marriage to Orso in Rome. Thirsk enrolls her help in painting scenery, and her bright energy kindles his dormant appetite for life. As Joanna fends off phone calls from her unreliable husband, her housekeeper Amabile watches the developing affair with Thirsk and the opera with unjaundiced, simple adoration. With son recently lost in an auto accident, and a daughter-in-law arrested for drug possession, Amabile grounds the whimsical proceedings with commonsensical observations and stout naïveté. While the performance itself is of little narrative concern here, Prantera gently prods her people through the stress of the production, a comical disaster that ironically reseals the bonds pried open and widened as the novel progresses. “Love,” Thirsk muses, “is knowing there’s better, but choosing . . . to stay put.”

With little decoration and an easy touch, Prantera offers a charming, if limited, comedy of matured love and virtuous compromise.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7475-4927-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury UK/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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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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