Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

PEW

A silent stranger of indeterminate origin is discovered sleeping on a church pew in Lacey’s haunting fable about morality and self-delusion.

A nice churchgoing family—Hilda, Steven, and their three boys—in the small-town American South stumbles on someone lying down before services on Sunday and agrees to take the stranger in. “Steven and I decided that you can stay with us as long as it takes,” Hilda tells the stranger, who responds with silence. The stranger is illegible to them—racially ambiguous, of indeterminate gender, unclear age, no obvious nationality—and as an interim solution, the reverend decides they’ll call the stranger Pew, “until you get around to telling us something different.” They are kind, at first, and patient. Their questions as to Pew’s identity are only meant to help, they say—“we really don’t think you’ve done anything wrong, exactly,” and “God loves all his children exactly the same”—but still, they need to know “which one” Pew is, and Pew continues to say nothing. But other people do: Invited by Pew’s silence, they begin to confide in Pew, offering sometimes-chilling windows into their past lives. Pew, publicly silent but an acute observer of societal dynamics, is both the novel's narrator and its center, an outside lens into an insular and unsettling world. Pew’s only peer is Nelson, adopted by one of the church families from “someplace having a war,” a fellow charity case, ill at ease in town. “My whole family was killed in the name of God,” he says, “and now these people want me to sing a hymn like it was all some kind of misunderstanding.” As the week wears on, tensions begin to rise as the community prepares for its annual “Forgiveness Festival,” an ominous cleansing ritual central to the cohesion of the town. “The time right after, everyone’s more peaceful,” Nelson’s mother tells Pew. “Of course right now it’s a little more dangerous for everyone.” Setting her third novel in a placid town built on a foundation of unspeakable violence, Lacey (Certain American States, 2018, etc.)—spare and elegant as ever—creates a story that feels at the same time mythological and arrestingly like life.

Darkly playful; a warning without a moral.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-23092-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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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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