The first of Piersanti’s several novels to reach English translation. May his others follow soon.

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LUISA AND THE SILENCE

The progress of an emotional and physical “crack-up” is traced in meticulous and spine-tingling detail in this accomplished 1997 Italian novel.

It sticks closely to the daily routines, thoughts, and increasing fears of Luisa, a 60-year-old unmarried accountant who works for a toy-making firm. The story begins with a “vertiginous” waking dream of being trapped in a building without walls or floors, and then quickly segues into a series of unspecified disturbances: a sudden panic attack while lunching in a comfortable restaurant; repeated “nuisance” phone calls in which no voices are heard; the sight of a beautiful black cat struck by a car, its spine broken, slowly dying; a doll that seems to adopt differing, menacing facial expressions and postures. Piersanti varies the novel’s claustrophobic intensity with Luisa’s fragmented memories of her ebullient, loving father and especially her former lover Bruno, out of her life for the past ten years. When Bruno unexpectedly visits, to reclaim an old photograph, they’re cordial, but Luisa cannot bring herself to what seem to be his advances. Thereafter, her vague apprehensions of something threatening her multiply alarmingly. “Perhaps in her body, without her being aware of it, a terrible battle was taking place against disease and the brain had other things to do than follow its ordinary controls.” Or perhaps she’s the quarry of an entity described by the woman co-worker who has seen it in a current film: “The Nothing that Advances.” A tendency toward repetitiveness in the final fifty or so pages has the unfortunate effect of relaxing the tension just when we feel it should be ratcheting up unbearably. Still, Piersanti’s firm concentration on Luisa’s vulnerability and her surrender to hallucinatory fantasies keeps the reader’s attention riveted.

The first of Piersanti’s several novels to reach English translation. May his others follow soon.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8101-6088-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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