A literary lark, at times too labored, that offers an amusing gloss on the publishing industry’s recent problems with fakes.

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THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR

Novelist Phillips (The Song is You, 2009, etc.) introduces a long-lost Shakespeare play, the titular Tragedy. This extraordinary find…

No, wait. Something’s wrong here. How come the introduction is more than twice as long as the play? Why are the editors, in their preface, urging us to read the play directly while bypassing the introduction? And why would Phillips say of the play, “It is bad. Don’t read it”? It’s all a game, of course. Ignore those editors. Read the convoluted introduction, and you’ll find it’s Phillips’s fifth novel, masquerading as autobiography. Young Arthur, named for his dad, grew up in 1960s Minneapolis with his twin sister Dana, his beloved soul mate. The kids were in awe of their father, the inspiration for this novel. He was a wonder worker, a maker of miracles. Too bad he was also a forger who would spend years in prison. One more thing: He was an ardent Shakespearean. Dana inherited his love of the plays; Arthur didn’t. The first, rambling half of the novel covers Arthur’s adolescence and adulthood and his years as a successful expatriate writer in Prague, married to a Czech. The plot kicks in late. Arthur, back stateside, is given an assignment by his dying dad. There’s a lost Shakespeare play in a safe-deposit box. Arthur must use his credibility as a writer to get it published. The ploy works. Scholars authenticate the work. Only Arthur, to his dismay, realizes too late that it’s a fake. There follows a fight between Arthur, trying to prevent publication but by now contractually bound, and his publisher, using all its corporate muscle. There’s also a nifty subplot involving Dana, who’s gay, her sweetheart, and dastardly behavior by Arthur, all of this linked to the play’s publication. After the hijinks, the play is an anticlimax, a decent enough pastiche about martial prowess and a less-than-martial king.

A literary lark, at times too labored, that offers an amusing gloss on the publishing industry’s recent problems with fakes.

Pub Date: April 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6647-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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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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