The best kind of reportage fiction: evocative and meaningful.



A Pushcart Prize–winner offers a searing indictment of the coal industry in this memorable debut novel.

A native of West Virginia, Pancake used interviews and real events to shape the fictional story of Lace, Jimmy Make and their four children. Lace first met Jimmy when he was 15 and she was old enough to know better, a college freshman at home for the weekend. The two begin messing around and soon Lace is pregnant, drops out of college and moves back home to the kind of life she thought she had escaped. When her daughter Bant is born, Lace rediscovers the mountain and feels a belonging to the land of her ancestors. Four years later, Lace and Jimmy marry and have son Dane, and then Corey and finally little Tommy. They fall into poverty, mainly due to the new kind of strip mining now used in West Virginia. Well-paid union miners are gone and instead scab laborers work at what’s called mountaintop removal—an environmentally devastating method of coal extraction that leaves the landscape utterly barren and the people who live there in danger of both flooding and chemical poisoning. Lace becomes involved in a grassroots movement to save the area from further damage, but nobody wants to listen to poor folk from the hills, and so the family teeters on the verge of destruction. Lace works at Dairy Queen, Jimmy watches TV all day and 15-year-old Bant has a job painting the scab boarding house (where she begins a flirtation with a worker). Dane, meanwhile, lives in terror that the next flood (nothing to do with us, says the coal company) will kill them all, while Corey and Tommy live in the smaller world of childhood that can be just as treacherous as the hollowed-out mountain looming above their house. Pancake, incorporating the cadence of the region, beautifully balances the tragedy of this family in decline with the inevitable destruction of their homeland.

The best kind of reportage fiction: evocative and meaningful.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-59376-166-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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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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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