“You always want to apologize, to everyone really,” bemoans the narrator to himself, leading to the question: Is this...

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IMPORTANT THINGS THAT DON’T MATTER

Goofy, cloyingly colloquial, if not entirely unaffecting anecdotes about growing up in Reagan-era, mall-ized Rockville, Maryland, with divorced parents.

With a dumbed-down, forgiving grace, newcomer Amsden’s narrator, at 20, re-creates painful early memories of his father’s neglect and alcoholism. The first bit, “Up Late with Dad and Shirley,” concerns the father’s failure to pick up his wife and son, five, from the airport late one night; Joe appears hours late with his tenant lady in tow, Shirley, ex-Playmate and cocaine addict. With each discretely titled story (“Education is Overrated,” “Side Mirrors are Pointless,” etc.), the unnamed narrator grows older and seemingly wiser, glimpsing more foibles of his messed-up father and floundering to maintain his own sense of self. Once his parents divorce and he lives mainly with his educated, entrepreneurial mother, visiting time means sitting in bars watching his father drain nine martinis; watching porn videos while his father and a fellow loser, Floyd, snort cocaine in the bedroom; and witnessing the disintegration of members of his father’s extended family. Gradually, the young narrator moves into adolescence; experiments with girls; bumblingly rebuffs the advances of an older pedophiliac cousin; and, finally, arrives at Hunter College in Manhattan, where he meets his wayward father for a concluding, sodden lunch at an expensive seafood restaurant. The problem about Amsden’s gum-chewing, childishly sarcastic vernacular is that it works only while the narrator’s quirky, self-deprecating personality keeps the reader’s interest—in this case, until about midway through—after which point the writing grows tedious and repetitive. The “Me and Dad” anecdotes are good for a few laughs before we yearn for more substantial fare: when the finally-arrived-at-adulthood narrator, now a college dropout, hints at his knowledge of older women, in particular their copious pubic hair, the humor has run its sophomoric course.

“You always want to apologize, to everyone really,” bemoans the narrator to himself, leading to the question: Is this confession funny or pathetic?

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-051388-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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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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