The way we live now, assessed with rue and grace.



Ten stories by bestselling novelist Sittenfeld (Eligible, 2016, etc.) probe the fissures beneath the surfaces of comfortable lives.

Donald Trump bookends the collection, as an alarming candidate in “Gender Studies” and an upset victor in “Do-Over.” His unexpected election suits the characters’ sense of the ground shifting underneath them, often due to false assumptions. Sometimes the mistaken ideas are deeply humiliating: The discontented wife in “The World Has Many Butterflies” discovers that the man with whom she’s been sharing bitchy assessments of fellow members of their affluent Houston social set is not the soul mate she thought and has been judging her by the conventional standards she believed they both despised. Sometimes they’re oddly liberating, as when the annoyingly perky wife and mother in “Bad Latch” proves to have some gumption to back up her chipper proclamations. But even the most positive stories have an undercurrent of unease. The protagonists of “Off the Record” and “The Prairie Wife” feel overwhelmed by the demands of parenthood; it’s probably not a coincidence that both are also grappling with mixed feelings about celebrities whose lives seem so much more exciting and important than theirs. Sittenfeld adroitly threads themes of disenchantment and perplexity through a group of stories whose characters, despite their reasonably secure middle-class professional status, share a feeling that their lives haven’t turned out the way they expected. Occasionally the plotting can be a little pat. The predictable unmasking of the narrator’s secret texting correspondent in “Plausible Deniability” somewhat mars a sad self-portrait of a man painfully aware of his inability to sustain meaningful personal relationships. But in the collection’s best stories, such as “Volunteers Are Shining Stars,” even a slightly lurid denouement feels true to the protagonist’s fierce resistance to points of view that challenge her own closed-off perspective. Sittenfeld’s own perspective throughout is compassionate without being sentimental, hopeful without being naïve.

The way we live now, assessed with rue and grace.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-59286-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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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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