Lapidary prose and keen historical feeling make it hard to believe this is a first novel.



Young wife confronts her husband’s emotional failings Down Under.

In 1930s Australia, the Better Farming Train moves slowly across the country, displaying modern agricultural techniques and dispensing government-sanctioned advice about practical issues confronting rural families. When the novel opens, Jean, the train’s sewing instructor, is quietly settling into her transitory life. She has made an odd family composed of Sister Crock, who teaches women’s subjects, Mary Maloney, who specializes in dairy cows, Mr. Ohno, a chicken-sexer, and Robert Pettergree, an agricultural specialist who can accurately identify the origin of any soil sample just by tasting it. Jean, 23, innocent and affectionate, is caught up in an intensely passionate relationship with Robert, whom she marries. They move to a farm where Robert can try out his agricultural science. Jean quickly finds that Robert’s exacting dedication to the scientific method extends to her; she is consumed by their sexual passion, but chafes against his need to manage their marriage as though it were an experiment. She is finally compelled to leave, prompted in part by her realization that Robert’s minute factual knowledge of the land conceals the fact that he has no idea how people really fit into the landscape, how they derive emotional rather than physical nourishment from it. The novel, written in the present tense and in the first person, achieves a rare, somewhat unlikely tone, at once languorous and urgent. Tiffany’s lean, controlled writing bears an incredible amount of weight; in a few well-turned phrases, the dusty Australian landscape comes alive, and the author evokes Jean’s fevered, nameless passions with cool restraint. The world of the train, especially the depiction of Mr. Ohno, who sees Jean’s passionate nature before she does, and Mary Maloney, who sees Robert’s limitations but cannot tell Jean, is especially moving.

Lapidary prose and keen historical feeling make it hard to believe this is a first novel.

Pub Date: May 16, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-8637-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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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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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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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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