An ambitious book, undone by its surfeit of symbolic meanings, leading—well, God knows where.



A satire on the state of the American soul comes partially dressed in the bygone literary conventions of such learned colonists as Jonathan Edwards.

Thomas Mosher is the young, black pastor of the Pilgrim's Congregational Church ("An Historic Church with a Modern Message") in W_________, Massachusetts, serving a white, upper-middle-class congregation, until one day, after a particularly esoteric sermon, "The Shapes of Love," Mosher disappears, vanishing without a trace. With this potent conceit in place, Anastas (An Underachiever’s Diary, 1998) embarks on his treatise against rampant US materialism by wading into the lives of the congregants, who most definitely fit the sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God bill. His major doer of wrong is Bethany Caruso, mother of two difficult children and wife of a sex-starved husband, who is carrying on an affair with the "well-liked" pastor. She's followed closely by Margaret Howard, the high-powered real-estate broker and racist who motivates her staff by insisting that a property represents "Love and Happiness!" Anastas tempers his condemnation with portraits of other, good, congregants, who are not only devout but as lonely, flawed, and wounded by the world as Thomas. His devoted assistant minister, the Reverend Jane Groom, finds intimacy so challenging that she lives with a dog named Molly Bloom, and a fair share of the narrative is devoted to Molly in estrus and Jane's efforts to fend off suitors. Indeed, the lives of these and other characters command the narrative, while Thomas, a black man of mixed parentage, too awkward to have excelled in sports, and, for the most part, a mediocre lover, remains an enigma, his melancholy shadow hinted at through the lives of his flock. That's not enough. His reasons for adultery with Bethany, who "replaced his religion and silenced God," may leave the reader fidgeting and slightly dazed, like his congregants as they listened to that last sermon.

An ambitious book, undone by its surfeit of symbolic meanings, leading—well, God knows where.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-15214-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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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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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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