A richly layered, difficult text that may well be worth the several readings it probably requires.

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GHOSTWRITTEN

An inordinately ambitious first novel, the work of a Westerner living in Japan, traces a chain of events that affect lives on several continents, explored in stories “ghostwritten” by other (in some cases, literally alien) intelligences than those of the people who experience them.

The narrative begins and ends (in “Okinawa,” then “Underground”) in the mind of a member of a millennial cult that commits mass murder by releasing poison gas into the Tokyo subway system. An errant phone call links him with a Korean-born music-store clerk working in “Tokyo” who’s smitten with a beautiful student, and follows her to “Hong Kong.” There, the couple are glancingly observed by a British finance lawyer who’s cast off by his resentful (childless) wife, sexually dominated by their Chinese maid, drawn into money-laundering for a Russian criminal conspiracy, and haunted by the unthreatening ghost of a young Oriental girl. Similarly accidental connections lead gradually from East to West, focusing on a series of art thefts that occur in “Petersburg,” a rootless jazz drummer’s sexual and artistic progress (as a ghostwriter of celebrity autobiographies) through London’s musical and political worlds, and a woman scientist’s painful exile from her past as part of a surveillance team performing secretive services—on an island off the coast of Ireland—for the US Department of Defense. This is a fairly extreme example of the contemporary “systems novel” (as practiced by Pynchon, DeLillo, McElroy, et al.) obsessed with the interrelationship—not to mention intricacy and opacity—of postindustrial culture’s supersophisticated technologies. The impression of a world systematically endangering itself lies heavily on every page. Hollander’s bleak black-comic dramatizations of the depersonalizing effects of a global village worshipping such strange new gods doesn’t entirely escape redundancy and obscurity, but the most interesting chapters, especially those depicting a Chinese woman victimized by Mao’s Cultural Revolution and a Mongolian spirit vainly seeking a stable “host” body, rise to impressive levels of both ingenuity and poignancy.

A richly layered, difficult text that may well be worth the several readings it probably requires.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2000

ISBN: 0-679-46304-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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