Malloy (The Year of Ice, 2002) fails to bestow upon his character one bit of self-knowledge, and that’s the most dispiriting...

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BRENDAN WOLF

A lifelong loser finds new ways to screw up in Malloy’s depressing second novel.

Brendan Wolf is a 35-year-old gay man living in Minneapolis. His parents, financial consultants caught bilking their clients, were jailed when Brendan was seven; he then went through several sets of foster parents before being adopted by sadistic psychologists who forced the teenager into brutal “conversion therapy” upon discovering he was gay. Brendan severed all contact with them after dropping out of college. Now, he’s just lost his latest dead-end job and is facing eviction. His favorite book is Into the Wild, the 1996 nonfiction bestseller about Christopher McCandless, the brilliant young loner found dead in the Alaskan wilderness and, in Brendan’s fantasies, his soul- and bedmate. He is pulled in an altogether different direction by big brother Ian, doing time for conning seniors out of their life savings. Ian is due for release, and he and his wife, Cynthia, want Brendan to participate in an elaborate heist, stealing the proceeds from a pro-life group’s Walk for the Unborn. Through a prison contact, Ian also hooks Brendan up with Marv Fletcher, a rich, ugly old queen looking for a “houseboy.” Both scenarios spell disaster, but Brendan, true to form, jumps right in, ingratiating himself with the pro-lifers with a phony story and moving into Marv’s house. The old man has a stroke, but Brendan whisks him out of the nursing home and becomes his incompetent caregiver. This is wholly implausible, as is Marv’s accidental shooting of Brendan. The final absurdity comes when Brendan, still recovering from his wound on the day of the Walk, drives the getaway van without a license.

Malloy (The Year of Ice, 2002) fails to bestow upon his character one bit of self-knowledge, and that’s the most dispiriting thing of all.

Pub Date: April 5, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-35976-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2007

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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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