INFINITE JEST

An ambitious and frequently brilliant fictional exploration of the pursuit of pleasure and its ramifying consequences, by the antic author of Girl with Curious Hair (1989), etc. In a manner both reminiscent and imitative of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Wallace traces the sometimes connected fortunes of two dozen or so addicted and obsessed souls variously involved with: the authoritarian cultivation of young minds and especially bodies at the Enfield (Mass.) Tennis Academy; the supervision of AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) patients at Ennet House, a Boston-area rehab facility; and the necessarily clandestine activities of the U.S. Office of Unspecified Services, which takes a dim and paranoid view of what most Americans accept as entertainment. And there's undoubtedly a link between the U.S. tour planned by a Quebec tennis team and the machinations of Québecois separatists, notably the Dr. Strangelovian R‚my Marathe, a triple- or possibly quadruple-agent struggling with his own surreptitious needs. In nearly a thousand pages of text and another hundred of amplificatory "Notes and Errata," Wallace plays a skillful set of exhaustive variations on these related plots and motifs (deformity and addiction crop up repeatedly). Major characters are the remarkable Incandenza brothers: tennis phenom and autodidact Harold, his brothers Orin and natally challenged Marion ("the family's real prodigy, an in-bent savant-type genius of no classifiable type"), their unconventional mother Avril ("the Moms") and late father James (a suicide), whose career as an independent filmmaker will cast long shadows over his survivors' lives. They're surrounded, balanced, and thrown into fractious comic relief by such figures as the aforementioned Marathe, U.S.O.S. Chief Rodney Tine, and drug-ridden, violence-prone Don Gately, who labors erratically to save others and himself within the Stygian confines of Ennet House. It's a raucous, Falstaffian, deadly serious vision of a cartwheeling culture in the self-pleasuring throes of self-destruction, marred only by its author's unaccountable fondness for farcical acronyms (also from Pynchon) and dumb jokes (not that there aren't dozens of good ones as well). Almost certainly the biggest and boldest novel we'll see this year and, flaws and all, probably one of the best.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 1996

ISBN: 0-316-92004-5

Page Count: 1088

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1995

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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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