Redeemed from jejune first-novel fatuousness by apt imagery and pervasive wit.

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TUVALU

Tragi-comic love life of a young Australian footloose in Japan.

Instead of attending university, Noah Tuttle has come to Tokyo with a fake diploma to scratch out a living as an English teacher. In a run-down, vermin-ridden hostel, he rooms with fellow Aussie Tilly, a sickly girl unforthcoming about her past. Then there’s Mami, a rich girl who lives in a glitzy suite in her father’s high-rise hotel. Tilly longs for an idealized Pacific island, Tuvalu. Rule-eschewing Mami steals, fakes suicide and in general apes the lifestyle of a Japanese SuperFreak. Her serendipitous encounters with Noah always leave him battered, physically and/or emotionally. Both Tilly and Noah are summoned home. Noah’s father, an ex-priest, panics when Noah’s mother becomes a live-in chef for a lesbian sculptor. Tilly’s biologist father is struggling to farm lavender and preserve endangered frogs. Noah and Tilly quarrel and he returns to Tokyo without her, falling once more into Mami’s clutches, and into the money-leaching schemes of scammer entrepreneur Harry. After a lackluster tour of Tokyo’s seedier hostess bars, the action picks up when Tilly returns, to find Noah with Mami. The hostel is being slowly demolished by “Deconstructionists” and its population of stray cats decimated. (Cat lovers, beware of certain pages.) Kicked out by Tilly, Noah is squatting in a nearby apartment mysteriously vacated by their former landlady. Justifiably horrified by the cat carnage, Tilly decamps for Australia for good. (We’ll learn later that her illness was not anorexia, but leukemia.) Mami is collared for shoplifting and goes into family-enforced exile, while Noah becomes embroiled in a marijuana operation with former hostel mate Phillip, a now disfigured ex-model who had “the sort of jaw that propped up whole lines of cologne.” Against his better instincts, Noah embraces Mami as his own personal Tuvalu. The ending, intended to be ambiguous, will not be if “rules” of character consistency hold true.

Redeemed from jejune first-novel fatuousness by apt imagery and pervasive wit.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-74114-871-5

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2007

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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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