The best new book of short fiction since Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever. Keep your eye on Doerr.

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THE SHELL COLLECTOR

STORIES

This striking debut collection of eight stories offers several boldly imagined and scrupulously detailed explorations of the mysteries inherent in both the natural world and human interconnection.

People who live close to nature (or attempt to) are the protagonists of “A Tangle by the Rapid River,” an anecdote about an adulterous fisherman who can’t keep either his catch or his secrets, and “July Fourth,” a sly parable of America First optimism wrapped in an amusing tale of a bicontinental competition between US and British “sportfishermen.” Doerr strikes deeper in “The Hunter’s Wife,” a carefully developed story filled with fresh imagery about a Montana hunting guide and the free-spirited magician’s assistant whose inexplicable “foreign and keen sensitivity” to the souls of animals slowly drives them apart. People who can’t live where they’re meant to appear in “For a Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story,” in which a high-school volleyball phenom’s love for an itinerant carnival “metal-eater” is poignantly contrasted to her stay-at-home sister’s ordinary life; and “Mkondo,” about an Ohio “fossil hunter’s” troubled marriage to the impulsive Tanzanian girl whom he brings home, only to learn they’re “leveraged apart by the incompatibility of their respective landscapes.” Doerr’s meanings emerge more subtly in the title story, whose unnamed protagonist, a blind man living alone in Kenya, accidentally “cures” the victim of a venomous snail bite, and is mistaken for a great healer. But even this excellent story is dwarfed by “The Caretaker,” the brilliantly compact tale of Joseph Saleeby, a thief and idler who is uprooted and transformed by Liberia’s appallingly violent civil war, makes his way to the Oregon coast, fails in his duties as a literal caretaker, then lives as a recluse seeking atonement for his crimes and a place where he can belong. This is one of the great contemporary stories: an Edenic myth of sin and retribution, and, just possibly, Doerr’s ingenious variation on Flannery O’Connor’s masterpiece “The Displaced Person.”

The best new book of short fiction since Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever. Keep your eye on Doerr.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2002

ISBN: 0-7432-1274-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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