Sweeping both geographically and intellectually; a literary page-turner.

IN THE GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES

A South African expatriate now living in Australia and her much-older American benefactor wrestle with obsession and guilt while reconstructing the stories that brought them together many years earlier in Dovey’s (Only the Animals, 2015) psychological excavation.

Seventeen years after their last contact, Vita, now approaching 40, receives an email from Royce, kicking off a predatory dance of what she calls “mutual confession.” What follows is less correspondence—the missives soon ditch the formal trappings of “letters”—than parallel narratives, similarly haunted by loss and by shame. Raised by political activists between apartheid South Africa and Australia, Vita spends her college years at an unnamed-but-hallowed Boston institution making documentary films without any people in them, unable or unwilling to place herself in her own country’s history. “In order to confess,” college-aged Vita thinks, but does not say, “one must have sinned—but I am unsure which of that country’s multiple sins are to be placed directly at my feet.” It is the question that will shape her life. And it is Royce who will fund it: In her senior year, Vita receives a Lushington fellowship—an extraordinarily generous grant for “extraordinary women,” courtesy of Royce’s fortune. He, too, is wracked by guilt for his past, albeit on a somewhat more personal scale: As a student at their shared alma mater, he was in love with the then-aspiring archaeologist for whom the fellowship is named, spending years as her platonic companion and research assistant, following her to Pompeii, where she devoted herself to excavating the gardens and where she will fall victim to an untimely death. In a novel unabashedly about ideas, Dovey does not shy away from bluntly confronting big questions head-on, and yet—a testament to her skill—the book, while trembling with meaning, is neither obvious nor cumbersome but unsettlingly alive.

Sweeping both geographically and intellectually; a literary page-turner.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-22664-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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