Strong work. It deepens the impact that this was the last book completed by the author.

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LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH

This short novel of rhyming verse might be better read aloud, if only the author were still alive to read it. 

The late essayist for NPR’s This American Life, Rakoff (Half Empty, 2010, etc.) was accustomed to writing for the ear, but never has his writing seemed more designed to be heard than here. The posthumous publication provides a fitting memorial to a humorist whose embrace of life encompassed its dark side and who died of cancer in 2012 at age 47. Written in anapestic tetrameter—most familiar from “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and most commonly associated with light comedy—this novel of interlocking stories nevertheless deals with rape, abortion, adultery, homophobia, AIDS, dementia and death. It’s like a child’s bedtime story that you would never read to children, yet it retains a spirit of sweetness and light, even as mortality and inhumanity provide a subtext to the singsong. “If it weren’t so tragic, it could have been farce,” he writes of an early blooming 12-year-old girl who attracts plenty of unwanted attention, including that of her brutish stepfather, and then finds herself blamed before escaping to something of a happy ending. The bittersweet center of the novel is a young boy who discovers both his artistic talent and his homosexuality, lives a life that is both rich and short, and dies just a little younger than the author did. Some of the rhymes read like doggerel (“crime it...climate,” “Naugahyde...raw inside”) and some of the laughs seem a little forced, but the author brings a light touch to deadly serious material, finding at least a glimmer of redemption for most of his characters.

Strong work. It deepens the impact that this was the last book completed by the author.

Pub Date: July 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-53521-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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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