A powerful statement about sex, war and identity.

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GIRL BY THE ROAD AT NIGHT

A NOVEL OF VIETNAM

The lives of an American GI and a Vietnamese prostitute briefly intersect in the early years of the Vietnam war.

Known primarily as a playwright, Rabe (Dinosaurs on the Roof, 2009, etc.) delivers his first Vietnam novel. When Pfc. Whitaker, assigned to Fort Meade, receives his orders to ship out for Vietnam, his life starts to border on the surreal. He gets drunk, wanders the streets of D.C. and attends an antiwar rally. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Quach Ngoc Lan lives something of a parallel life, selling her body to help support her family and, for the moment, blissfully ignorant of the impending arrival of Whitaker. For the first half of the novel, Rabe writes antiphonal chapters, weaving two separate narratives that help introduce us to his two main characters, whose lives are defined only by their separation. Each is obsessed with sex, Whitaker as an escape from facing what he feels might be his impending death, and Lan as a means to an end. When Whitaker finally arrives in Vietnam, it’s fated that his path should cross with that of Lan. He becomes smitten both with her beauty and her sexual skill. She, too, finds Whitaker different from her other encounters with American GIs, more vulnerable—more tender and more enigmatic. Rabe’s Vietnamese characters tend to speak a pidgin poetry that at times can verge on the incomprehensible: “No babysan can come. Numba ten. Beg money. Not nice. Other GI no like boucoup babysan talk GI—him eating—‘Gimme money, gimme money.’ Numba ten.” Rabe never romanticizes his characters. This is no Romeo-and-Juliet story of unrequited love and desire. Instead, Whitaker and Lan play out their roles in both tender and brutal ways.

A powerful statement about sex, war and identity.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6333-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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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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