Rayner finally has the spotlight in this compelling fictional memoir, even if the occasional lack of explanation and detail...

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Romano-Lax (The Detour, 2012, etc.) gives voice to the remarkable woman behind a controversial man in this fictional memoir of parenting psychologist Rosalie Rayner.

In the 1920s, John Watson and his team at John Hopkins conducted extensive psychological experiments on babies to test Watson’s theories about the importance of nurture over nature and the potential of behavioral conditioning. The ethics of their landmark set of early experiments on one anonymous child, called Little Albert, remain the subject of considerable criticism today. Rayner, then a recent college graduate, was Watson's right hand during the trials but soon became just as controversial as her mentor. They began a romantic relationship, which ended Watson’s marriage and forced him to leave Hopkins. The couple went on to marry and write parenting books based on their research. Watson is still at the center of the story, which begins when Rayner meets him while still an undergraduate at Vassar. But Romano-Lax skillfully transitions between the early academic allure of Watson's work, the heady days of the pair's illicit relationship, and Rayner’s later difficulty in bridging the life she thought she’d have and her own reality. The book spans decades quickly, at times dizzyingly, following Rayner through her gradual disillusionment. While the author paints a compelling portrait of Rayner’s life, much is left unexplored. Rayner’s response to her husband’s continued infidelity and her withdrawal into the domestic sphere leave the reader with many questions, particularly after the deeply detailed earlier chapters. Romano-Lax trusts her readers to make connections across chapters with little to jog their memories, which can take the reader out of the story at crucial, dramatic moments. These hiccups aside, however, the book succeeds in bringing to life a complex, driven woman who has largely been lost to history.

Rayner finally has the spotlight in this compelling fictional memoir, even if the occasional lack of explanation and detail glosses over key moments.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61695-653-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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