Though well-crafted, this genteel novel never quite achieves liftoff.



A debut novel that tells the unlikely story of an English farm wife and a Danish museum curator through their spirited correspondence.

Loneliness draws them together—that and their keen interest in the prehistoric Tollund Man, whose perfectly preserved head is on display in Denmark’s Silkeborg museum. Tina Hapgood has always wanted to visit there from her home in East Anglia; but having passed her 60th birthday, she doubts she ever will. Anders Larsen—intercepting a note she’s written to the (now deceased) archaeologist who discovered the Tollund Man in 1950—encourages her to make the trip. And so it begins. Tina, we learn from her letters, married at 20 and had the first of her three children shortly thereafter. Her marriage is loveless, and she has many regrets about roads not taken. Anders, a widower with two grown children, loved his wife deeply; but the marriage was fraught owing to her emotional fragility. Tina and Anders exchange confidences, and their connection—though limited to written exchanges—becomes more intimate. (In a nod to modern technology, the pair eventually shifts from letters to emails.) The book proceeds at a leisurely pace until close to the end, when a major plot turn seems to change everything. Or does it? The writing is, for the most part, poised and literate; and Tina’s descriptions of the natural world she knows so well can be quite lovely. Unfortunately, she sounds way too sophisticated given the cloistered life she is supposed to have led. There is also an overly earnest quality to some of what Tina and Anders write to one another: “We have been talking to each other about where life went, and if the way we spent it was the way we meant to have spent it….” (Tina) “Our letters have meant so much to us because we have…arrived at the same point in our lives. More behind us than ahead of us. Paths chosen that define us.” (Anders)

Though well-crafted, this genteel novel never quite achieves liftoff.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-29516-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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