An engagingly puerile narrative in the form of a modern morality play.



California surfer Duane’s claustrophobic second novel (Looking for Mo, 1998) explores the exquisite agony of dating neurotic women.

At the precarious age of 28, in the throes of facing long years working as a lowly adjunct before landing a professorship, Cassius Harper is in transition from golden beach boy to adult. He’s moved across the bay from his native Berkeley to San Francisco, and he’s “struggling with my first adult dating—by which I mean trying not to plunge into commitment with the first person I slept with.” Nonetheless, he rapidly falls for yet another incarnation of the nutty girl he historically can’t help being attracted to, and just like all her predecessors, she excoriates him emotionally. Harper’s narrative is by turns slippery, confessional and utterly conflicted, as he describes his relationship with Joan Artois. Introduced by mutual San Francisco friends as “raw sex on an oyster shell,” Joan is independently wealthy and too flighty to hold a job or lover for long. She’s also manipulative and abusive; Harper’s attempts at sharing his feelings are met with her stony reply, “I have no room in my heart.” Joan may blow hot and cold, and she’s certainly high-maintenance, compared to Harper’s warm, earth-mother department colleague Shauna, an occasional bedmate who genuinely likes him, but Harper is intensely drawn to her sexy brand of maltreatment. “Perhaps I really was a weak monster in a morally righteous universe,” he muses, feeling wounded but oddly grateful after a session of Joan’s abrasive criticism. The author is building an edifice of terrible irony here, as Duane shows Harper childishly turning the reader into yet another confessor (like his hip mom, a ’70s activist) who will—he hopes—validate his experience. The result is predictably sad when Joan lures Harper to New York, but at least he displays a hint of self-awareness.

An engagingly puerile narrative in the form of a modern morality play.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2005

ISBN: 0-374-21732-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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