YOUR BLUES AIN'T LIKE MINE

Emmett Till was a 14-year-old black Chicagoan whose lynching in 1955 in Mississippi outraged much of the nation. Moore (previously known for her memoir, Sweet Summer, 1989) here fictionalizes his story without, curiously, ever explicitely acknowledging this ``little nobody who shook up the world.'' Lily and Floyd Cox are young marrieds and poor whites in Hopewell, Mississippi, in 1955. Floyd owns a run-down shack of a pool hall patronized by black sharecroppers. Armstrong Todd is a 15-year-old black kid raised in Chicago, visiting with his grandmother. He speaks some French in Lily's presence in the pool hall; this is uppity enough to draw the wrath of the Coxes. The insecure Floyd proves his manhood to his father and brother by beating and then shooting Armstrong in their presence. Clayton Pinochet, son of plantation owner Stonewall and guilt-racked closet liberal, makes sure the story goes national by telephoning (secretly) a New York reporter. Meanwhile, Armstrong's mother, Delotha, insists that her boy be buried in Chicago, where there's a huge funeral. Floyd is tried and found not guilty, but his business is ruined by a boycott. Delotha heads south, seeking vengeance, but changes her mind en route. Moore tells all this briskly (it's her one strength), while capturing only a fraction of the terror and downplaying the brutality: Till was disfigured almost beyond recognition. Having used up her core material quickly (poor pacing), she fills the novel's second half (which ends in 1988) with soap-opera (the marital problems of the Todds and the Coxes) and a glib picture of the New South, embodied in Lily's spunky daughter Doreen, who joins her black sisters on a picket line (``I ain't scared of being raped by Willie Horton, Mama. I'm scared of not having medical benefits''). This would be just another unmemorable first novel were it not for its crass exploitation of one of America's foremost victims of racism. Till, and the Movement, deserve better.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-399-13746-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1992

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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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