Capable but bland.

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SHE IS ME

Three generations of a close-knit family—mother, daughter, and granddaughter, each supporting the other selflessly but nevertheless facing her greatest challenge alone.

Best known for The Love Letter (1995), which became a movie, Schine (The Evolution of Jane, 1998, etc.) focuses this time on three women: Lotte, the matriarch of a Jewish family transplanted to California, has recently been diagnosed with facial skin cancer. Her daughter Greta, a landscape artist married to a nice if slightly abstract doctor, adores her mother and does not resent caring for Lotte. Elizabeth, Greta’s daughter, is an academic in New York, but by lucky coincidence she has been hired by the movie mogul Larry Volfman, a secret intellectual, to adapt Madame Bovary for the screen. With her loving boyfriend, whom she won’t commit to marry, and their excessively lovable three-year-old son Harry, she moves to LA just in time to help care for Lotte, who is, as she herself likes to repeat, “a pistol,” as elegant and feisty as ever. Earthy, nurturing Greta is thrilled to have her daughter near but keeps her feelings in check. Elizabeth’s life, complete with a big salary, a cottage in Venice, and an SUV, seems almost perfect. Then Greta is diagnosed with colon cancer. She keeps her own cancer a secret from Lotte, but Elizabeth must step in and help both patients more. She’s exhausted, pulled by conflicting responsibilities. As Lotte very privately comes to grips with her approaching death, Elizabeth finds herself attracted both to Volfman and to her younger brother’s best friend, even though Brett is the most patient and loving of romantic heroes. Meanwhile, Greta not only struggles with chemotherapy but with her growing, out-of-the-blue passion for Daisy Piperino, the female director with whom Elizabeth is working. There are many references to Flaubert’s novel, but Schine’s domestic melodrama is short on real drama, with characters all too nice and understanding to create more than a mild stir.

Capable but bland.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-316-78609-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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