A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.

READ REVIEW

WE SHOW WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

& OTHER STORIES

Nine stories that reveal the strangeness underpinning even the most ordinary of lives.

In the title story of Beams’ debut collection, an elementary school teacher shocks her students by falling apart—quite literally—in front of the class. At eight pages, it’s the book’s smallest story, but it’s emblematic of Beams’ approach, in which ordinary characters are transformed, often in extraordinary, otherworldly ways. In “All the Keys to All the Doors,” a little-used room in the town hall may provide unexpected solace to a community reeling in the aftermath of a school shooting. In “Granna,” the newly single narrator takes her grandmother back to a family vacation spot and witnesses the mysterious effect it has on the older woman. Not all the stories are tinged with fantastical elements; Beams is equally interested in stepping into other realms by reaching into odd corners of history, as in “Ailments,” in which a young woman becomes obsessed with her sister’s husband, a doctor, during London’s Great Plague. But even when the stories do draw from the tradition of fabulism, they always feel wholly Beams’ own, from the unflagging elegance of the prose to the wisdom with which Beams approaches the complex emotional terrain her characters navigate. With other authors, this philosophizing can feel forced; not so here. Take this for example, from “Granna,” in which the narrator muses on her ex-boyfriend’s assertion that she should not have a child because she didn’t seem maternal: “Yet it seemed terrible of him not to have given her a chance, that largest of all possible chances, to transcend the way she seemed.” It is this gap between what the world seems and what is that Beams tackles so memorably in this collection.

A richly imagined and impeccably crafted debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940596-14-3

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Lookout Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more