There are some lovely moments (e.g., the poetry of grieving Seneca women’s laments for their dead); but, on the whole, The...

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THE WHITE

The traditional narrative of Indian captivity is updated with only middling success in this thin first novel by a Pennsylvania poet and storywriter.

Based on the personal history of historical figure Mary Jemison (or Jamison) as told to Dr. James Seaver, The White is a quickly paced account of the experiences of an Irish immigrant woman who is alone kept alive (as “replacement” for a slain warrior) when she and her family are captured by “a Shawnee raiding party” in the barely settled Pennsylvania territory in 1758. In brief paragraphs that juxtapose the events of Mary’s life with her (often bitter) observations on her fate, later “reveries,” and remembered snatches of biblical stories and sayings, Larsen marches us through her heroine’s gradual bonding with the Senecas (to whom she’s “given” by her captors), marriages to the gentle Delaware brave Sheninjee (who dies young) and older Seneca hero Hiokatoo (for whom she bears five children), and stoical old age, when, having lived to bury several of her children, she finally realizes her dream of owning land, and refuses to be “redeemed” (i.e., reclaimed by white society), instead choosing to die, in her 80s, among “her people” the Senecas. This is rich material, but Larsen’s treatment of it is skimpy. She repeatedly sets up promising situations (a game of lacrosse reflecting “the very texture of assault”; an “execution” of offending white settlers), only to end up presenting them in elliptical summary form. Characterization is perfunctory at best, as are sporadic attempts at layering in such historical incidents as the betrayal of the “Six Nations” by double-talking representatives of England’s King George III: the sequence is essentially only a means of getting Mary to the Genesee Valley, where she lives out most of the years 1763–1833.

There are some lovely moments (e.g., the poetry of grieving Seneca women’s laments for their dead); but, on the whole, The White is an inchoate tale, neither successfully fictionalized nor fully imagined.

Pub Date: July 19, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-41359-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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