Thoughtful and fun, if somewhat baffling; a novel of surprising tension and tenderness.

READ REVIEW

BUTTERFLIES IN NOVEMBER

An unlikely kinship develops in this strange Icelandic road trip novel.  

Ólafsdóttir’s (The Greenhouse, 2011) narrator is an unnamed, 33-year-old translator who’s married with no kids and a lover. Clueless about her boyfriend, her husband cites her frequent absences and lack of interest in motherhood as the two main reasons he’s divorcing her. That and the fact that he’s expecting a child with another woman. As it happens, her lover also dumped her just hours before. “Destiny isn’t something to be trifled with,” she says; “in a single day I’ve lost my home and my neat little past.” Adding a touch of prophecy to the tale, she has her fortune told: “There’s a lottery prize here, money and a journey. I see a circular road, and I also see another ring that will fit on a finger, later. You’ll never be the same again.” She actually wins two lotteries (a mobile “bungalow” and millions of kronúr), and after a good friend who's pregnant with twins is put on bed rest with a broken ankle, she agrees to care for Tumi, her friend’s 4-year-old son, who's deaf and has poor eyesight. Ólafsdóttir’s measured, often lyrical prose adds tension to the plot's theatrics, as if life and fate are loud and humans must respond quickly to survive. Destination uncertain, the odd couple drives Iceland’s Ring Road, a desolate, unseasonably warm place (hence the butterflies of the title) peopled with rural folk who offer bursts of social commentary. Besides quick sex with a few men, life quiets down for the narrator after she and Tumi move into their countryside bungalow. Looking back while trying to move on, she does end up in love; it's something new, requiring immense risk. To end weirdly, Ólafsdóttir throws in 40 pages of recipes for things like Icelandic pancakes, sheep’s head jelly, undrinkable coffee and sour whale.

Thoughtful and fun, if somewhat baffling; a novel of surprising tension and tenderness.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2318-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more