A moving glimpse into 21st-century queer womanhood.

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WILLA & HESPER

Feltman's debut follows two MFA students who fall in love, break up, and learn how to heal on their own.

Emotional and intuitive, Willa is the kind of person who makes "everything [hurt] a little bit extra." When she sees Hesper, another writer in Columbia's MFA program, at a late-night diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she is instantly attracted — but unsure how to negotiate Hesper's enigmatic style of flirtation. "I thought: she has to be gay," Willa muses. "She has to at least be in the vicinity of gayness." Their short-lived relationship is filled with ups and downs, as Willa struggles with the weight of sexual assault and Hesper contends with her own queerness and fears of intimacy. "I ruin people," Hesper tells her father late in the novel. "And I don't want to be close to people anymore. I don't want to have to look at them after they're broken." In order to heal from the breakup, Willa signs up for a tour of German concentration camps, and Hesper travels with her family to Tbilisi to uncover her grandfather's roots. The novel ends in the shadow of the 2016 election and the Trump presidency, when its characters must confront questions of trauma and belonging with a new sense of urgency. Writing in alternating first-person chapters, Feltman renders each perspective with moving fidelity to her characters and their interior lives. When Willa worries that "loving me had an expiration date" or Hesper feels "radioactive with depression," there's not a whiff of ironic distance or judgment. It's an impressive feat for any novelist working in the shadow of TV shows like HBO's Girls or novels like Emily Gould's Friendship, which attracted outsized criticism for their depictions of "unlikable" young women coming up in the city. The result is a deep and intimate portrait of two queer women in their mid-20s who come of age in New York while navigating—or refusing to navigate—their relationships to privilege, family, identity, and faith. What could be a novel about an intense attraction that falls apart is, in Feltman's hands, a bigger story about how people change us—and how we welcome or resist that change.

A moving glimpse into 21st-century queer womanhood.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1254-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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