Amid ongoing revelation, all narrative strands (and there are many) are tied neatly by the end.

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THE WEEKEND

A tight literary contrivance by the novelist best known for The Reader (1997).

Imagine The Big Chill transplanted to the German countryside in the wake of 9/11 terrorism. As the title suggests, this narrative encompasses a single weekend, Friday through Sunday, which represents a reunion of those who were close (even lovers) during their university days, but who have seen their lives take significantly different paths. The impetus for the gathering is the pardon of Jörg, a convicted terrorist who has been imprisoned for more than two decades for the murder of at least four victims. His older sister, Christiane, has been like a mother to him (though some suspect a lover as well), and she has arranged for the gathering of former friends (and spouses and a few interlopers) to welcome her brother back to the world at the country house she shares with Margarete. Christiane and Margarete may or may not be lovers, though the romantic alliances that begin the novel are likely to shift before its end (or there would be no novel). Among the guests is a noted journalist who might be able to help Jörg make his case with the public. He was once Jörg’s best friend, later (and briefly) became the lover of Christiane and is suspected by Jörg of the tip to authorities that led to his arrest. There is also a back story, a gathering from some 30 years earlier, at a funeral for a friend to them all who mysteriously committed suicide. At least one of the friends believes that the suicide was a fake, that the purported suicide was also a terrorist who may still be alive. She spends the weekend writing a novel within the novel concerning this possibility, constructing a narrative that “she couldn’t research, but had to fantasize.” Jörg finds himself in a tug of war between a younger radical who wants him to issue an unrepentant proclamation and a lawyer who wants Jörg to cut ties with his terrorist past.

Amid ongoing revelation, all narrative strands (and there are many) are tied neatly by the end.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-37815-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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