The best of Gray’s stories find that balance between devastation and humor and navigate an uneasy territory with agility; in...

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STORIES

The minute details of life are memorably rendered in surreal and sometimes grotesque ways. 

Many of the stories in this collection are set in a formerly familiar corner of the world that’s been turned on its head. “It was my idea to rent the girl,” writes the narrator of “House Heart,” and the story that follows takes familiar elements and pushes them toward an eerie, transgressive place. A couple living in a space that was once "the preparation wing of a garment factory" rents a young woman for a game called House Heart, in which the threat of violence looms and the industrial remains of the residence become hiding spaces. This is Gray’s fourth book (and third story collection), and it features the widest stylistic range of any of her books to date. Its predecessor, the novel Threats (2012), blended surreal imagery with questions of crime, violence and perception. Here, Gray combines those aspects of Threats with the concise and sometimes-absurdist tendencies that characterized her earlier collections. The irreverent “Go for It and Raise Hell” is metafiction walking into a bar for an unheard-of bender, while “Year of the Snake” begins as a riff on folk tales and shifts gears into something stranger, laced with body horror. There’s also a grim, bittersweet comedy that comes to the forefront in stories such as “Device,” in which a scientist creates a device that predicts the future; after two decidedly specific predictions, the inventor asks it what his future spouse will be like. “ ‘Skin, hair.’ The device buzzed lightly. ‘Fingernails.’ ” The response is both comic, with the machine eventually enveloped in a fit of pastoral reverie, and emotionally harrowing. 

The best of Gray’s stories find that balance between devastation and humor and navigate an uneasy territory with agility; in this book, there are many that reach that mark.

Pub Date: April 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17544-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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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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