While she compellingly evokes the journey out of childhood, as well as loneliness, self-determination, and the magnetic pull...

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THE CHANDELIER

Brazilian literary titan Lispector (Complete Stories, 2015, etc.) expands on themes familiar to fans of her dense, rich, inimitable style in this, her second novel, originally published in 1946 and now translated into English for the first time.

Told almost entirely in a third-person stream-of-consciousness style, the story follows Virginia, the youngest of three siblings growing up on Quiet Farm in Upper Marsh in a sparsely furnished family mansion with velvet-lined floors. She is slavishly attached to her brooding brother, Daniel. "She didn't even know what she was thinking, all she had was ardor, nothing more, not even a point. And he—all he had was fury." Sometimes she molds little sculptures from river clay, "a task that would never end, that was the most beautiful and careful thing she had ever known." Secretive, philosophical, intense, the siblings create the Society of Shadows, the two of them its only members: "They had foreseen the charmed and dangerous beginning of the unknown, the momentum that came from fear." As elsewhere in her work, Lispector is fascinated by moments, often fleeting and barely articulated, of dawning self-awareness. "Yes, yes, little by little, softly, from her ignorance the idea was being born that she possessed a life." Virginia and Daniel eventually leave Upper Marsh for the city. Virginia sees the sea, rents her own apartment, takes a lover. The novel follows her from moment to closely noted moment, as for example, taking a walk before a dreaded dinner party: "What she was feeling was without depth....Quick thick circles were moving away from her heart—the sound of a bell unheard but heavily felt in the body in waves—the white circles were blocking her throat in a big hard bubble of air—there was not even so much as a smile, her heart was withering, withering, moving off through the distance hesitating intangible, already lost in an empty and clean body whose contours were widening, moving away, moving away and all that existed was the air, thus all that existed was the air, the air without knowing that it existed and in silence, in silence high as the air." Passages like this comprise the bulk of the book. Of Virginia later, dozing on the train: "her lucidity was the raw brightness of the moonlight itself; but she didn't know what she was thinking; she was thinking...like a bird that just flies." Readers already acquainted with The Hour of the Star will note a number of parallels. In some ways, this is a bigger, larger-hearted version, more intimate and more generous, though similarly dense.

While she compellingly evokes the journey out of childhood, as well as loneliness, self-determination, and the magnetic pull of family, Lispector's signature brilliance lies in the minutely observed gradations of her characters' feelings and of their elusive, half-formed thoughts.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2313-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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