This material does not do justice to Schutt’s sharp-edged vision of contemporary mores.

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PROSPEROUS FRIENDS

This third novel from Schutt (All Souls, 2008, etc.) is the desultory story of an unhappy marriage. 

Ned and Isabel met in graduate school at Columbia. Pretty Isabel was smitten by the equally pretty Ned. Even then, Isabel had migraines caused by “sloth, envy, anger, uncertainty.” Both wanted to be writers; Ned had the ambition. After attending Ned’s cancer-stricken mother in California, they married in Vegas. We first meet them in London a year later, living frugally off Ned’s fellowship. Schutt is known for her elliptical style. What we gather through the ellipses about their sex life does not bode well: He’s importunate, she’s withholding. Isabel finds out she’s pregnant and decides on an abortion; she wants a career before motherhood. Ned attaches them to a rich, obnoxious banker (Schutt fixes him with a beady eye), and they vacation in Rome on his dime. Back stateside, Ned reconnects with Phoebe, an old flame. She’s newly married, but so what? Cheating is part of the fun. Isabel does it with Clive, an elderly, rich, married painter. Such a shame that the old boy is “practiced in taking advantage of the stunned or wounded.” He invites her up to Maine for some modeling. Isabel brings the uninvited Ned; if he drops Phoebe, she’ll stop servicing Clive. Her plan doesn’t work, though she cries and cries at a B&B on the way. (Its ancient owners, who bookend the novel, have an old-school marriage, loving and loyal.) This is where the younger couple’s marriage essentially ends, though the reader must piece together the details; this is surely one ellipsis too many. Perhaps tiring of mopey Isabel and vapid Ned, Schutt shifts attention to Clive. There’s not much drama there either.

This material does not do justice to Schutt’s sharp-edged vision of contemporary mores.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2038-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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