Peck's collection masterfully evokes the range and diversity of its era.

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THE SOHO PRESS BOOK OF '80S SHORT FICTION

A new anthology of fiction explores the chaotic literary energy of the 1980s.

The 1980s were a vibrant period for American fiction. On the one hand, there were the so-called “Dirty Realists”: Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson. On the other, the gritty urban writers of the Lower East Side, such as Lynne Tillman, Dennis Cooper, and David Wojnarowicz. Somewhere in the middle were the literary brat packers, including Bret Easton Ellis. Add Los Angeles’ Gil Cuadros and San Francisco’s Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy, and you’ve got a potent mix encapsulating the tensions, aesthetic or otherwise, of the decade: AIDS, economic disruption, a disconnect between official culture (Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America) and the more treacherous realities of the street. “It may be that history—whatever 'history' is anymore—remembers the '80s as the last analog moment when human beings were what we had always been, before we’re fully digitized into whatever hive creature information technology is in the process of creating," editor Peck writes in his introduction to this far-reaching collection. That’s an important aspect of the era, too. All these concerns, these implications, mark the 34 stories Peck has gathered, which are notable for their pointedness as well as their diversity. In “Pretending to Say No,” Bruce Benderson imagines Nancy Reagan showing up at a crack house (or does she?), where she reveals a fundamental secret about herself. A.M. Homes’ “A Real Doll” is narrated by a boy who doses his sister’s Barbie with Valium so he can have sex with her—an oddly human experience for all its transgressive fantasy. Some of the stories here (Johnson’s “Work” or Carver’s magnificent “So Much Water So Close to Home”) are widely recognized, but others, including Eileen Myles’ “Robin” and Jessica Hagedorn’s “Pet Food,” are lesser known. The result is a collection that avoids cliché or nostalgia in favor of an unexpected and refreshingly inclusive point of view.

Peck's collection masterfully evokes the range and diversity of its era.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61695-546-5

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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