When he shrugs off the heavy overcoat of writing program metaphors—a ha-ha is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch, it is...

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THE HA-HA

First novel about a man badly scarred in Vietnam, and scarred by it, who at last begins recovery.

Howard Kapostash can only grunt, so he carries a card explaining his condition: he is of normal intelligence but can’t speak, read, or write. His emotional IQ has always lagged behind, however, and his war experiences have aggravated the problem. He’s still vaguely in love with his high-school sweetheart, Sylvia, even though her life is one of incompetent motherhood and addiction. When Sylvia’s sister forces her into rehab, Howard is pressed into taking care of Sylvia’s nine-year-old son, Ryan, a surly, wounded, and uncommunicative child with whom Howard has only a passing relationship. Living with him now, though, in the house where Howard once lived with his own emotionally wounded parents, a father-son relationship begins to grow. They share the house, without intimacy or much cordiality, with a Vietnamese-American soup-maker, Laurel, and with the house painters Steve and Harrison, whom Howard calls Nit and Nat. Howard buys Ryan a baseball glove, takes him to the fights, attends his school play. Gradually, emotional barriers fall, and, as the rehab stretches into to weeks, the five become a family, for the first time caring for one another’s well being. Howard, paterfamilias-like, even lends Harrison a suit to attend his father’s funeral. Then Sylvia returns, a new lover in tow, and Howard, after years of disappointment and just weeks of hope, is reduced to a bearlike existence. He lashes out at the new couple in an effort to protect his young and his family, violence that brings him a brief sanitarium sojourn. But the tide has turned. Howard slowly regains his humanity, his emotional life begins unfolding, and his newfound family begins to come back together.

When he shrugs off the heavy overcoat of writing program metaphors—a ha-ha is a boundary wall concealed in a ditch, it is explained—King will be a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2005

ISBN: 0-316-15610-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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