An offbeat adventure that reads something like Bill Willingham’s Fables directed by Ralph Bakshi.

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HOLY COW

A MODERN-DAY DAIRY TALE

A conflicted cow, a Jewish pig and a debonair turkey seek acceptance and enlightenment during a journey across the Middle East. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before….                 

Long before he became the face of The X-Files’ Fox Mulder or Californication’s Hank Moody, Duchovny earned a master’s degree in English literature from Yale and was on his way to a Ph.D. As it turns out, his debut novel is a charming fable about dignity and tolerance, complete with anthropomorphized animals and replete with puns, double-entendres and sophisticated humor. The book is narrated by Elsie Bovary, a cow on a small farm in upstate New York  who has a clear knowledge of the kind of story she is telling. “I don’t know if you’ve read Animal Farm. It seems like that’s a book all human children have to read. Personally I prefer Charlotte’s Web, though spiders can be tricky—Harlot’s Web anybody? (And eight legs? Really? Two or four is the appropriate number of legs, everybody knows this. Maybe five, maybe. Eight seems desperate to me, or indecisive, indulgent even. You know?)” Upon learning how cows are slaughtered, Elsie plots her escape. To aid her efforts, she agrees to team up with Jerry—also known as Shalom—a Torah-reading pig who plans to use kosher dietary laws to his advantage in Jerusalem, and Tom Turkey, who wants to move to Turkey, naturally. After the obligatory training montage, the trio are off in their human disguises, traveling from Turkey to Israel to Palestine and finally Mumbai. Elsie has a very funny narrative voice, dropping bits of screenplay, suggestions for movie stars to cast (Jennifer Lawrence!), and clever but understated nods to pop culture, rock music and the value of faith. Between the book’s sly humor, gently humanist (animalist?) message and wry illustrations by Natalya Balnova, this is a pseudo–children's book that smart adults should greatly enjoy.

An offbeat adventure that reads something like Bill Willingham’s Fables directed by Ralph Bakshi.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17207-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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