Kaufman’s novel is expansive and imaginative, but at times its cartoonish sense of whimsy feels overpowering rather than...

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THE TICKING HEART

The 40-something protagonist of Kaufman’s (Born Weird, 2012, etc.) surreal novel travels to a city where metaphors are real and his own anxieties could be fatal.

Kaufman’s novel plays with archetypes in a grandiose fashion. Charlie, the hero, is a divorced father still ruminating on the end of his long marriage. Without warning, he magically arrives in the city of Metaphoria. “Everything in Metaphoria is metaphorical. This can get a bit troubling, confusing, even intimidating. However, that is the point,” Charlie is told just before he's transported there. Once he arrives, he's given the role of a detective and asked to find the missing heart of his client’s husband—and has a bomb sewn inside his own chest to raise the stakes. As befits the concept of Metaphoria, nearly every character he encounters has something stylized about them, from a bereft Cyclops to a sinister scientist scamming the city’s population. Along the way, Charlie grapples with his own anxieties, which manifest in unsettling ways—including the perennial threat that he might shrink away to nothingness. Despite the book's short length, there’s a lot going on here, and it’s not always clear if Charlie’s journey is intended as satire or a symbolically rich inner journey à la Robertson Davies’ Jungian novel The Manticore. The whimsical tone is marred by some of Kaufman’s word choices. The method of transportation in and out of the city is called a “poof,” and Charlie learns that, once he’s sorted out his issues and had an epiphany, he will “trigger a poof.” The resulting phrase has far different connotations than the fantastical ones found in this narrative, which creates some dissonance when reading it.

Kaufman’s novel is expansive and imaginative, but at times its cartoonish sense of whimsy feels overpowering rather than nuanced.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-55245-389-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Coach House Books

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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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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