An engaging collection of varied characters, if varying degrees of substance.

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THE STATE WE'RE IN

MAINE STORIES

The veteran short story master explores the peculiarities of summer life among well-off and often emotionally unwell Maine denizens.

Beattie (Mrs. Nixon, 2011, etc.) helped set the template for minimalist fiction in the 1980s, but she’s roamed stylistically since then, and these 15 lightly linked stories are as varied as the moods of their lead characters. A trio of stories centers on Jocelyn, a teenager sent to live with her aunt and uncle while her mother recovers from surgery for Lyme disease; her struggles in a writing class echo her need to develop a mature sense of her world’s complexity. Sometimes Beattie imagines that world as light and quirky, as in “Elvis Is Ahead of Us,” in which teens discover a room full of Elvis-bust lamps in an unoccupied house. Elsewhere, the milieu is darker and more absurd, a place where one man is killed after accidentally rousing a nest of yellow jackets and another is flung over a cliff by a storm during his wedding. What unifies these stories outside of their settings is Beattie’s nuanced understanding of relationships: at her best, in “The Stroke,” an aging husband and wife preparing for bed discuss their love-hate feelings toward their children, casually grooming each other while musing about “how lovely it would be to just grab the clump of them and cut them out.” Some pieces read like sketches with promising characters but little movement: a 77-year-old writer discusses poetry with an IRS agent, a doctor reminisces about her life in New York before moving north, an author interviews a local for a book about “people who have negative effects on other people’s lives.” A full novel on Jocelyn might be more fulfilling, but Beattie clearly enjoys wandering around the neighborhood.

An engaging collection of varied characters, if varying degrees of substance.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0781-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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