A first effort that’s charming at times but doesn’t know when to cut itself short.



A portrait of the Windy City that’s made up of many strands and colors.

The action unfolds over the course of the year 2000—between one New Year’s party and the next—all of it lovingly detailed, with emphasis on geographic exactness. As a love letter to rough-and-tumble Chicago, Winston’s debut novel succeeds, but at the same time it suffers dramatically due to its rather inconsequential parade of characters becoming lost in their setting (something that Adam Langer’s similarly conceived Crossing California successfully avoided). Author Winston, a former editor of the Chicago Review, has carefully chosen his dramatis personae for their ethnic, sexual, geographic and socioeconomic particularities, some only tangentially related to the others’ plot strands, if at all. There’s Ellen, the flaky former suburbanite whose daddy has just turned off the money spigot and who can’t commit to her troubled girlfriend, Megan. Alphonse, the black postman, is having serious family issues, while Florence, one of the older women on Alphonse’s route, is trying to get over her husband’s recent death. Some of the stories turn too much on situational plot hooks, as when gay couple Nathan and Robin have to make room in their apartment for Nathan’s uncle, a homophobic priest, or when singer Brad ditches his on-the-cusp band to try making it in New York (on the advice of his calculating lover), only to come crawling back after realizing the joke was on him. Winston knows better than to try to weave everything together here, since the necessary coincidences would badly strain credibility. There are characters who do end up migrating into each others’ lives by the story’s end, but, even then, the result is an overlong narrative that’s too heavy on setting and, in the interest of not giving short shrift to anyone, loses sight of its more intriguing figures.

A first effort that’s charming at times but doesn’t know when to cut itself short.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-9724562-9-5

Page Count: 412

Publisher: Agate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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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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