A closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of a relationship and the fissures that threaten to wreck it.

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MIDWINTER BREAK

The Belfast-born writer etches an affecting portrait of a couple more than 40 years married as they confront the idea that one of them is thinking of leaving.

Stella is a retired English teacher who likes to do cryptic crosswords as mental exercise. Her husband, Gerry, is a retired architect who likes to drink. They grew up and met in Northern Ireland but now live in Scotland, apparently exiled by the violence of the “thirty years war,” a time 74-year-old MacLaverty (Collected Stories, 2014, etc.) wrote of in Cal and elsewhere. That all is not well with the marriage may first be gleaned from their taking a January holiday in Amsterdam—an odd time and place to seek a break from the Glasgow winter. The signs and sounds of friction emerge as the two characters exhibit and silently or orally comment on the routines, tics, and habits fostered by four decades of marriage, an accretion that, like coral, can offer both protection and sharp edges. Deploying a masterful palette of details and allusions, MacLaverty reveals that Stella is on a mission that involves a Dutch Beguinage—a women's religious community—an old vow, her Catholic faith, and three scars: one from a C-section and two puckered circles on the front and back of her torso that are long left unexplained. Gerry’s boozing, so sadly and desperately on display in these few days, and his often acerbic jabs at Catholicism—a seeming relic of the Troubles—buttress her resolve, but they aren’t apparently decisive. MacLaverty makes the reader share some of the regret in the prospect of a sudden sundering by giving the couple a keen, humorous, mutually delightful banter that comes only with years of wit and happy practice.

A closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of a relationship and the fissures that threaten to wreck it.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-60962-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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