Disappointing.

READ REVIEW

FRANCES AND BERNARD

Debut novelist Bauer pens an epistolary novel whose protagonists lead insular, self-absorbed and very dull lives.

When Frances and Bernard meet at a writers’ colony in 1957, they develop a tentative friendship. Frances, a middle-class young woman from a loving, boisterous family, is stoic and undemonstrative. Bernard, the product of a privileged background and a Harvard alumnus, is unpredictable and outgoing. While seemingly polar opposites, they remain connected through their letters and spend years discussing everything from their tastes in music to their religious beliefs, their lives and the books they write. Bernard’s a poet while Frances writes fiction; they describe themselves as the epitome of square, but their letters, while boring and full of obscure references and stilted wording, come off more as condescending and pretentious than square. Both write as if they’re throwbacks to the Victorian era—at one point Frances informs Bernard that she retires to her chamber at night while her family watches television—which might explain their attraction to each other. Frances eventually moves to New York City, and Bernard visits her. Together, they explore the city. Then Bernard makes a huge mistake: He catches Frances off guard and kisses her, and she’s not exactly pleased. It takes several more letters and a breakdown on Bernard’s part before Frances finally admits she loves him. But both face difficulties and waste a lot more ink as Bernard struggles with mental illness and Frances copes with family crises before the final letter is completed. There’s no doubt Bauer is well-educated and passionate about her religious views, her love of literature and her characters, but her attempts to create stimulating spiritual and intellectual dialogue feel forced. The characters are too wrapped up in themselves and totally ignore anything outside their narrow personal spheres. How can they not once mention one word about the space race, Elvis, the Beatles, JFK’s assassination or Vietnam (just to name a few of the social and political events that occurred) during their 11 years of correspondence?

Disappointing.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-85824-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more