Readable entertainments that have much to say about the world.

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THE GIRL OF THE LAKE

Elegant, assured short stories by Roorbach (Summers with Juliet, 2016, etc.), winner of an O. Henry Prize for a story gathered in an earlier collection.

The germs of whole novels, or at least novellas, can easily be found in several of Roorbach’s stories. One, “Harbinger Hall,” works from a beguiling premise: a young scamp forges a pass to get out of school, permanently, and falls under the aegis of the meaningfully named Mr. D’Arcy, who abets his anarchy while steering him toward a real education, “lessons on the maps; lessons on a polished-brass microscope; lessons in a dozen languages; lessons in business, ethics, economics; lessons in math and mythology; lessons in what the old man called charm.” Through those lessons, Bobby becomes Robert, a man of parts. Or so we imagine, since Bobby is still Bobby at the end of the story, still a kid in jeans and sneakers sometime in the 1960s. Roorbach’s characters are often intellectuals or at least smart people; one memorable one is a young woman who, the narrator of “Dung Beetle” tells us, was “formidable in her own way, too, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that for her there were other subjects besides Marxism.” Thus the sentimental education of a “callow boy” begins. Roorbach writes in unadorned, vigorous language, occasionally allowing a word such as “chondrichthyan” to slip in, though never without reason; “shark” wouldn’t have quite done it, given the elevated machinations that are taking place in “Broadax, Inc.,” which moves into the grown-up world, decidedly inferior to the imaginative world of childhood. But even childhood has its fraught moments; says one teenager of a difficult home life, “My phone-in therapist says [my sisters are] damaged from all the moves. Also, my mother has been in a major depression since Judith was born. Also, my father is basically a Nazi.” Poor dad doesn’t get a chance to defend himself, but given that “Kiva” takes place in Wernher von Braun territory, it just could be….

Readable entertainments that have much to say about the world.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61620-332-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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