Clevidence’s worldview may be dark, but her future is rosy.

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THE HOUSE ON SALT HAY ROAD

A Depression-era family threatens to disintegrate in this elegant debut.

Three generations live under one roof on Long Island’s Great South Bay. There’s the patriarch, 89-year-old August Scudder; his middle-aged children, Roy and Mavis; and his grandchildren, 19-year-old Nancy and 12-year-old Clayton (their parents are dead). Disasters bookend the novel, which begins in 1937 and pretty much ends a year later. The fireworks-factory explosion at the start kills employees, destroys houses and scares the Scudder household. Nancy, out riding, is thrown from her horse but is unharmed. Another surprise awaits the fearless horsewoman: a chance meeting with a visitor from Boston, a young curator at a natural-history museum. A whirlwind courtship leads to their engagement on his next visit. The family is dismayed. Nancy and Clayton, the orphans, had been inseparable. Now what? Clayton tearfully refuses to go to Boston with his sister. After five years, he feels as rooted in this marshy paradise as his grandfather. Clevidence evokes this presuburban Long Island superbly. She has a painter’s eye and a flair for the striking image. However, she is less assured creating the family. In moving between five viewpoints, she is assembling a jigsaw; though entirely successful with the young siblings, she falters with the older members. Old man Scudder, retired from an early version of the Coastguard, is the linchpin. We’re told of but not shown his authority, and it’s unclear how much his harsh parenting has contributed to the unhappiness of his son Roy, a confirmed bachelor, and that of his equally unhappy daughter Mavis, refugee from a bad marriage, who clings to religion and superstitions. Happiness, we gather, is precarious, even for an exuberant bride like Nancy; death is ubiquitous (a hurricane, the other bookend, will tear the family apart); and God does not exist. That, at least, is Scudder’s conclusion; he lost his faith during a nautical nightmare that will haunt readers as well.

Clevidence’s worldview may be dark, but her future is rosy.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-17314-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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