An exemplary addition to Shreve’s already impressive oeuvre.

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STELLA BAIN

A wife risks every chance of domestic happiness by heading to the front long before America's entry into the Great War.

A woman awakens in a field hospital in Marne, France, in 1916. Fragments of memory surface: She recalls that she was serving near the front as a nurse’s aide and ambulance driver before suffering a shrapnel wound and shell shock and that her name is Stella Bain. Driven to seek answers about her identity from the Admiralty in London, she travels there and, ill, is taken in by August Bridge, a cranial surgeon, and his wife, Lily. Experimenting with the new field of psychoanalysis, August strives to restore Stella’s memory: She draws a series of scenes that provide clues, not least to the fact that she is an accomplished artist. At the Admiralty, she is recognized by Samuel, an officer there, and her past floods back—she is Etna Van Tassel, not Stella Bain. A flashback reveals that Etna and Samuel were young lovers in New Hampshire and that she begged Samuel, in front of his brother Phillip, not to marry another, to no avail. She married a dour Dutch professor, until a baseless scandal he fomented involving their teenage daughter and Phillip drove Etna—and Phillip—to France as a volunteer. Phillip and Etna’s affinity blossoms into affection as the duo, both ambulance drivers, steal moments together amid the carnage and horror of trench warfare. Although the novel’s structure is somewhat disjointed, and the preliminary amnesiac chapters seem gratuitous in light of the full revelations that follow, the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic. Many surprises are in store.

An exemplary addition to Shreve’s already impressive oeuvre.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-09886-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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