Funny but thin.



Alexis' (The Hidden Keys, 2016, etc.) tale of two men's search for a long-missing poet is a surreal adventure through Canada's fraught racial history.

Alfred Homer, a botanist at a private firm in Toronto, is grieving the first anniversary of his parents' deaths in a car accident. Even worse, his partner, Anne, has decided she doesn't want to marry him. As Alfred recovers from the dissolution of three relationships, relief arrives unexpectedly: Professor Morgan Bruno, an eccentric literary scholar and friend of his parents, calls to invite him on a research project. Bruno studies the poet John Skennen, a writer with the "talent of an angel" who mysteriously stopped publishing in the late 1990s. By driving from Toronto to the Ontario town of Feversham and visiting various small towns in between, Bruno hopes to gather details that will help him finish his biography on the lost poet. Alfred figures the trip will be a relaxing vacation. Besides, he's heard tell that oniaten, a rare plant with mysterious qualities, has been sighted on the outskirts of Feversham. The journey turns out to be an uncanny trip through a bizarre alternate-reality version of Canada. In honor of Canada's white pioneers, the town of Nobleton hosts an annual house-burning celebration, during which crowds watch local families struggle to save their homes from the flames. In neighboring Coulson's Hill, an "Indigenous Parade" offers up meager reparations for the harm Canada's First Nations suffered at the hands of those same white pioneers. Meanwhile, the town of Schomberg hosts a black population that speaks almost entirely in sign language—the legacy of a law that banned freed American slaves from speaking aloud within the town's limits. Over the course of Alfred's journey, the book reveals itself to be a critique of Canada's white supremacist underpinnings. "I don't suppose any place reveals itself to you all at once," Alfred reflects at one point. "It comes at you in waves of associative detail." This book feels like a wave of associative detail which Alexis uses to satirize a racial history that is stranger than fiction. As the novel drags on, though, it begins to feel rudderless; the search for Skennen comes to feel like a thin premise on which to hang a string of surrealist gags. By the time Alfred and Bruno approach a mystical fate in Feversham, the reader has lost any investment in them or their journey.

Funny but thin.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55245-379-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Coach House Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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