SALT WATER

Simmons (Wrinkles, 1978; The Belles Lettres Papers, 1987) reappears with a small, coherent, impeccably composed little tragicomedy whose only debility is that the ground it stakes out is well-worn. It’s the summer of 1963, and 16-year-old Michael is spending it, as usual, with his parents in their splendid old summer house on narrow Bone Point somewhere along the Atlantic coast—Connecticut, perhaps, though it isn—t said. The summer might have been indistinguishable from any other if the family guest house hadn—t been rented to the suavely cosmopolitan Mrs. Mertz (from a strain of far-back Russian nobility) and her 20-year-old daughter, the beautiful, enticing, and lively Zina—with whom Michael at once falls in love. A simple enough happenstance, and all might have moved forward through a youthful summer of ephemeral (however heartbreaking) romance if Michael hadn—t accidentally begun finding out some things about his good-looking father (and unhappy mother) that he hadn—t quite caught onto before. His father’s overnight business trips back into town have had—for a long time—more than just business as their purpose, and the unhappiness Michael sees in his jealousy-tormented mother begins suddenly making a sense to him it never did before. Complications ensue of a kind that mustn—t be told—this is a little book that needs certain of its secrets intact, though Simmons’s opening sentence (—In the summer of 1963 I fell in love and my father drowned—) needn—t be one of them. How that drowning occurred—and why and when, and what Michael’s part in it was, or Zina’s—won—t be said here, but what must be remarked on is Simmons’s way, from start of summer to end, of carrying the reader along with a limpid clarity and gracefully articulated telling that are pleasures of their own. A little saga of adolescence that, even if not new, is a perfectly-cut gem of its kind.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8118-2182-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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