Dazzling, genius-driven—and, alas, often tedious.

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NOTABLE AMERICAN WOMEN

Marcus follows up his extraordinary The Age of Wire and String (1995) with something of a disappointment. The verbal wizardry is still there, but the content has grown coquettish and slightened, no longer an engine sufficient to drive the whole.

Things open with a hilarious monologue by the father of “Ben Marcus, the improbable author of this book”: a father who is buried deep in the backyard of the family house somewhere in Ohio and who, after alluding to “the Silent Mothers,” urges readers to “forget Ben Marcus and his world of lies.” The Silent Mothers seem to be the women, led by Jane Dark, who have taken over the culture in Marcus’s futuristic America, devoting themselves to language purification—maybe elimination—and to the de-emotionalizing of people, not least poor young and strange Ben Marcus, who suffers under and through many of their techniques. These include straitjackets, “witness water,” rags that are chewed to absorb sounds and languages, spartan diets, wooden posts to be gnawed on, deliberate fainting, sundry brutalities, even a “language diaper.” The book’s narrative languor comes about in part because these group-women remain only anonymous ciphers; their motives are left unexamined while their doings are endlessly, albeit brilliantly, “described” in dazzling cascades of Marcus-language. The author’s wit can still capture perfect tens, as in “Blueprint,” about writing a novel such as this one (“The book should be closed so hard that a wind blows from it, gusting however feebly into whatever little world there is left”), or in the closing piece of anti-male virulence (by the “author’s” mother): “The four-point stance is my favorite posture for men. It indicates readiness, disguises fear, and raises their bottoms above their heads, which more authentically prioritizes a man’s body.” But ennui can set in, not because subject, theme, or story are lacking, but because, amid these fountains of linguistic brilliance, the reader never really meets, gets inside of, or cares about the people.

Dazzling, genius-driven—and, alas, often tedious.

Pub Date: March 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-71378-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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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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