With some echoes of Kafka and Vonnegut, this novel looks for the soul of the 21st century and finds an abyss.

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CHANGE ME

Global consumerism is a nightmare from which one nuclear family is trying to awaken.

This novel was published in Blatnik's (Law of Desire, 2014, etc.) native Slovenia in 2008, making it all the more remarkable how timely, even prescient, it seems now. On the surface, it’s a love story, beginning and ending with the same note from a husband to his wife, the wife he is leaving with their two sons, without warning. “It’s here now, this story, all of it,” he writes. “It’s here to say: I love you.” Though perhaps he has been warning her all along, perhaps the whole novel is a cautionary tale, one in which nothing is as simple as it seems, and the very notions of identity, character, free will, and choice are up for grabs. A passage referring to one character will end one chapter, and then the same passage will begin the next chapter, referring to the other, the husband and then the wife, or vice versa. (“Something had changed. Everything would have to be reorganized. It wasn’t too late.”) The man has not only walked away from his family, but from his computers, which he had once used as a musical mixer and later as a genius advertising sloganeer, “the boy wonder of his generation,” who, according to his wife, was “so efficiently helping to maintain the smooth running of the conveyor belt of goods fetishism and consumerism.” It was he who had come up with the “brand name for the toothpaste, DissiDent.” Yet he has apparently come to revile the values that he long worked to promote, and so he has taken off while leaving his family well provided for. His wife finds herself torn between her professional obligations, running a firm that involves occupational retraining for this new globalism, and her personal fears and desires. Her life is also transformed by her husband’s decision to transform his. By the end of the story, which ends where it began, little has changed and everything has changed.

With some echoes of Kafka and Vonnegut, this novel looks for the soul of the 21st century and finds an abyss.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-62897-336-5

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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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