Dreamlike, dense, original, this challenging novel has a cumulative power. Highly recommended.

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THE BESIEGED CITY

In her third novel, acclaimed Brazilian luminary Lispector (The Chandelier, 2018, etc.) merges the personal with the mythopoetic in the story of a town transforming into a city and a girl observing it.

Lucrécia Neves lives with her widowed mother in São Geraldo, a place "already mingling some progress with the smell of the stable." Like the female protagonists in other Lispector novels, she is unremarkable, neither intelligent nor imaginative. "Her modest function...was: to look." On long walks through town and into the surrounding countryside she sees things "as a horse sees them," and her observation is linked to the reality of the thing itself. "Reality was needing the girl in order to have a shape...what was seen became her vague story." Seeing, she creates the city. The dense, vivid prose, frequent use of passive voice, close interiority, and dazzling observation already familiar to fans of Lispector's distinctive style are coupled here with a dreamlike surreality. Lucrécia is described at different points as having hooves and wings ("With monotonous and regular flapping she was flying in the darkness above the city"). Over the course of the novel she takes flirtatious walks, carries on insipid conversations, fights with her mother, marries a wealthy older man, moves to a big city, falls in love with someone unavailable. There are insights into relationships familial and matrimonial and unexpected flashes of humor ("Something without interest to anyone was happening, surely 'real life.' ") But what matters most is Lucrécia's way of seeing, which she continues even in sleep, "rubbing, forging, polishing, lathing, sculpting, the demented master-carpenter—preparing palely every night the material of the city." Her visionary function is essential and timeless. "When all the cities were erected with their names, they would destroy themselves anew....Upon the rubble horses would reappear announcing the rebirth of the old reality, their backs without riders. Because thus it had always been. Until a few men would tie them to wagons, once again erecting a city that they wouldn't understand, once again building, with innocent skill, the things. And then once more they'd need a pointing finger to give them their old names." Underpinning the novel are questions about gendered power, about time and the permanent and ephemeral. "And Lucrécia's, was that the true, surrendered life? the one that gets lost, the waves that rise furiously over the rocks, the mortal fragrance of flowers?"

Dreamlike, dense, original, this challenging novel has a cumulative power. Highly recommended.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2671-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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