A sparse novel about desire, abuse, and gender.

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BLUE FLOWERS

A recently divorced man begins receiving letters from an anonymous woman.

“My darling,” begins the letter that opens Saavedra’s slim novel and all the letters that follow. One morning, Marcos, a newly divorced father, discovers a light blue envelope tucked inside his mailbox. Even though it’s addressed to someone else, Marcos opens the letter and discovers a love letter signed by A. The rest of the novel alternates between the daily letters from A. and Marcos' perspective. Marcos constantly feels like an outsider who is unable to understand (or be understood by) the women in his life. One morning, while watching his ex-wife and daughter leave for a visit with the girl’s grandmother, he thinks: “A kind of female clan, with a matriarchal lineage, a bond that united them and made them mysterious, inaccessible—he just stood there, forever excluded from their pact.” In A.’s first letter, she writes, “I remember, and I’m remembering again now.” The letters remember and relive the last days and moments of the doomed relationship in detail. Steeped in eroticism and violence, A.’s letters slowly reveal the shocking events that finally destroyed her relationship. As the letters become increasingly disturbing, Marcos falls deeper under their (and her) spell. While Saavedra’s sparse writing style may be polarizing, the novel’s themes reward rereading—particularly the refrains that echo in both Marcos’ thoughts and A.’s letters. Late in the book, Marcos—who has been struggling with insomnia—begins to remember painful moments from his marriage: “remembering only halfway, there was always something missing, memory just a nagging question.” Unfortunately, the abrupt ending leaves readers with more than a few nagging questions of their own.

A sparse novel about desire, abuse, and gender.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-175-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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