An immature, unfocused story about a young man who’s much the same.

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YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

A suburban boy tries to make the leap to manhood and fails miserably.

One might expect a little evolution from this sophomore novel by Dolnick (Zoology, 2007). Unfortunately, the author rolls out the same humdrum anxiety and juvenile yearning that characterized his debut novel. Worse, this new story has an even more generic setting and a plethora of tired, clichéd plot points that make it a drag to complete. The neighborhood boy of the moment is Jacob Vine, a middle child struggling with identity and family in the cheerlessness of his Maryland township. His biggest struggle is his ongoing hatred of older brother Will, a smart and popular student who drowns Jacob in his shadow. Barely given pause is the cancer fight faced by Jacob’s mother, and the terrible anguish of his ghostly father. Mostly, this parental absence seems to be an excuse for the endlessly navel-gazing Jacob to chat up Emily, the girl on which he dotes. “Over already,” Dolnick writes of the funeral. “Songs, stories, death like a dimmer switch in the sky.” While Jacob is terribly self-involved, Emily is a poorly drawn cipher, flip-flopping between cold aloofness and teenage lust with abandon. She’s painted with that patina of desire that only pubescent boys can muster, but a lack of distinguishable character washes her out. The book follows their relationship, which ends with a hackneyed and regrettably ordinary plot device. But Dolnick clearly isn’t afraid to trot out plenty of other chestnuts. From teen pregnancy to sibling rivalry, academic disappointment to first heartbreak, the novel’s touchstones are all too familiar. In fact, they’re so very unexceptional that the novel doesn’t give readers any purchase on which to hang affection or even sympathy for the coddled boy at the center of the story. At one point, Jacob has a mild revelation about the interconnectivity of his life’s events, but it’s lost as quickly as it arrives.

An immature, unfocused story about a young man who’s much the same.

Pub Date: March 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-39087-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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