Meditative literary fiction, a near-dream-state reflection on the duality of life.

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ELSEWHERE, CALIFORNIA

When her father’s passion for a better life moved the family from Los Angeles’ 80th Street to West Covina, Avery Arlington liked the suburb’s “promised stellar living.” Now she’s not so sure.

Avery, once in suburbia, disconnects, pulled toward angst and rebellion by her new best friend, Brenna, yet ensnared by the hard-line rules of her über-strict parents. Brenna is white, Avery African-American. Also in the mix: Avery’s cousin, Keith, flitting between Avery’s home and his single mother’s house in Victorville—and between trouble and rebellion. The story shifts between Avery’s childhood, descriptions and dialogue redolent of the rural south and of the ’hood, and the present day. Adult Avery lives in a Schnabel house wannabe in the moneyed hills of West Los Angeles. Avery graduated from USC—Johnson’s comprehension of poor girl among the rich is superb—and satisfied her parents’ ambitions. Soon after, she met and moved in with Massimo, an Italian immigrant and successful attorney. Avery holds a business degree, but her passion is art, both painting and collage, metaphorically symbolic of her self-constructed life, “putting together all my pieces of discarded things.” As much as Avery’s art represents the self she constructed, the shadow of Keith, thief and drug addict, hanging over and haunting her life, represents the oppression of choice, success and failure. Johnson’s novel speaks to race, class and culture; white, black, Hispanic and immigrant; the world as it is, and as it should be.

Meditative literary fiction, a near-dream-state reflection on the duality of life. 

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-58243-784-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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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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