So much travail, so much uplift! So much phony plotting and superficial characterization.

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MADE IN THE U.S.A.

Letts (Shoot the Moon, 2004, etc.) returns with another uplifting tearjerker, this time about an orphaned brother and sister who face travail before finding love and acceptance within an Oklahoma circus family.

Fifteen-year-old Lutie McFee’s mother is long dead. Her alcoholic father has decamped to Las Vegas, leaving Lutie and her 11-year-old brother Fate in the care of his latest girlfriend Floy. When Floy drops dead at Wal-Mart, tough but lovable Lutie and precocious but friendless Fate head to Vegas to find their father. By the time they arrive and discover he’s died in prison, they’re flat broke. Lutie earns money any way she can, including posing for porn, while Fate sells lost golf balls when he’s not hanging around the library or the elementary school he hopes to attend. After a rape and a few other humiliations, Lutie, who has also developed a cocaine habit, is robbed and badly beaten. Fortunately, Lutie and Fate have a guardian angel. Juan Vargas, who has been helping them anonymously since their arrival, now saves Lutie. A former aerialist with Cirque de Soleil until a fall ended his career and left him disabled, Juan drives the McFees to Oklahoma where his family runs a circus. Juan has his own emotional baggage; having left Vargas Brothers Circus years earlier, he never returned to face his heartbroken father. Instead, after his accident, Juan drifted into addiction until joining AA (which he describes glowingly although he never attends meetings). In Oklahoma, Fate almost immediately feels at home, making his first real friend and learning to fish. Recuperating from her attack, Lutie at first resists the care offered by Juan’s grandmother Mama Sim, but once she reveals to Mama Sim her deepest, guiltiest (most trite) secret, Lutie is emotionally ready to accept the love the Vargas family offers. And through Lutie’s talent as an aerialist, Juan finds his own way back into the family fold.

So much travail, so much uplift! So much phony plotting and superficial characterization.

Pub Date: June 19, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-446-52901-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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