With an ominous air and well-crafted prose, Emmons’ stories are both immersive and challenging.

VANISHING

FIVE STORIES

Five women must reckon with quietly unsettling shifts in their lives as they navigate unexpected changes.

Set in the Northeast United States—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York—novelist Emmons’ (Weather Woman, 2018, etc.) first short-story collection centers on women who are surprised by something in their lives. In "The Deed," an attorney and mother of young twins comes home to find a man in her house insisting he owns it, treating her like a confused person who should be pitied. In "Fat," a young art student has strong negative feelings about the model in her drawing class as well as her own body, and the corporeal drama escalates to an alarming pitch. In the title story, a middle-aged woman visits her childhood best friend, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, on her birthday. In "Redhead," a woman whose college ex-boyfriend’s wife has died in her early 20s befriends the dead woman's mother by lying to her. In "Her Boys," a middle-aged woman who runs a magazine feels a maternal ownership over her young male employees, but it becomes clear that she does not see anyone around her as they are. Throughout the stories, each woman is preoccupied with appearance, both physical and social. The language in the collection is poetic in its imagery: “sunlight popping off so many surfaces, appearing unexpectedly through the branches like flashing blades.” But that flowery language can also come off as judgmental and contrived: “Her hair was an unfortunate light rust-red, a shade that…faded in summer to a grandmotherly gray-ish orange, and always suggested the possibility of a histrionic character or white trash origins.” The characters’ obsessions with their own and others’ bodily appearances are often disturbing, especially in "Fat," in which the fat character is a strange cross between cautionary tale, inspiration, and object of fixation. “Her private parts were concealed, but to Tasha Jane’s entire body was one massive private part.” None of the characters are very likable, and many are unreliable, but Emmons is a skilled storyteller when it comes to psychological drama in seemingly ordinary lives.

With an ominous air and well-crafted prose, Emmons’ stories are both immersive and challenging.

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948585-08-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Leapfrog

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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