One of the great Native American - and American - stories, and a great gift to all of us, from one of our very best writers.

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THIRTEEN MOONS

The recent resurgence in historical fiction arguably dates from the critical and popular success of North Carolinian Charles Frazier's memorable first novel, Cold Mountain.  A romantic epic in the classic mold, this richly detailed saga of a Civil War deserter's homeward odyssey won the 1997 National Book Award and inspired a haunting 2003 feature film.

Classical precedent likewise informs and shapes Frazier's long-awaited second novel, in which a rootless and restless protagonist, like Cold Mountain's embattled hero, Inman, expends the energies of a long lifetime seeking permanent reunion with the only woman he'll ever love, who loves him in return yet moves in and out of his yearning orbit during the decades they are apart, but never entirely trusts him nor can bring herself to share his patchwork experience. Like the beleaguered heroes of the books that are his lifelong sustenance, he's a visionary fixated on an ever-receding ideal:  the noble knight Lancelot, cursed and burdened by his own divided and enervated loyalties. She is Claire Featherstone, the ethereally beautiful young wife of a "white" (i.e. half-breed) Indian who prospers as a landowner and patriarch in the Cherokee Nation that stretches westward from the Carolinas to Oklahoma. He is Will Cooper, an orphan and "bound boy" sold by his relatives to an "antique gentleman" who places adolescent Will in a moribund trading post on the edge of "the [Cherokee] Nation" - from which humble beginning he earns a vast fortune, bonds closely with his Cherokee neighbors and mentors (his conflicted friendship with the mercurial Featherstone overshadowed by his filial devotion to the equally prominent chief known as Bear), studies law and represents "his people" against the repressive policies of Indian-hating President Andrew Jackson, becomes a state senator and an itinerant buffer between the red men's and white men's worlds, all the while pursuing the memory, the dream and the promise of the elusive Claire. Thirteen Moons brings this vanished world thrillingly to life, retelling the agonizing stories of "the Removal" (of Indians from their ancestral lands) and the lie of "Reconstruction"; creating literally dozens of heart-stopping word pictures (e.g. autumn's display of "a few stunted pumpkins still glowing in the fields and a few persistent apples hanging red in the skeletal orchards"); building unforgettable characterizations of the sorrow-laden everyman Will (whom we first, then finally, glimpse as a reclusive anachronism, weathered by "a near century of living"); unpredictable Featherstone and stoical Beat (a character Faulkner might have created); Claire who belongs to no man, ancient medicine woman Granny Squirrel, and all the uprooted and dispossessed souls enduring "the days and nights, the thirteen moons" of each accumulating year, while making their final journey "to the Nightland".

One of the great Native American - and American - stories, and a great gift to all of us, from one of our very best writers.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-50932-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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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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