In her scintillating, provocative new book, Levy combines intellect and empathy to impressively modern effect.

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HOT MILK

Kinship, gender, Medusas—this rich new novel from a highly regarded British writer dazzles and teases with its many connections while exposing the double-edged sword of mother-daughter love.

Levy’s (Things I Didn’t Want to Know, 2014, etc.) latest work may read lightly but is in fact a closely woven fabric of allusions, verbal riffs, and cross-references reflecting the experiences and dilemmas of its narrator, Sofia Papastergiadis, born in Britain to an English mother, Rose, and a Greek father she hasn’t seen in 11 years. Now 25, with a degree in anthropology, Sofia is living an empty, frustrated life since she abandoned her doctoral thesis to take care of Rose, whose many ailments include strange pains and mysteriously paralyzed lower limbs. The story opens in Almeria, Spain, where, at considerable expense, mother and daughter have gone to visit the Gómez Clinic in hopes of a cure for Rose. But is Rose really ill or a hypochondriac? Is Gómez a quack or a brilliant healer? Is Sofia a monster, as she and others refer to her, or a sexual powerhouse—as she begins to seem after acting on Dr. Gómez’s recommendation that she become bolder by taking two lovers, one male and one female. Levy’s wit and fluency render her quicksilver, sometimes surreal narrative simultaneously farcical and fascinating. The new, bolder Sofia may act more decisively—freeing an abused dog, stealing a fish, visiting her father and his new family in Athens—but underneath she’s lost and lonely, afraid of “failing and falling and feeling.” Yet her need for a “bigger life” cannot be suppressed, leading to one final act of boldness that disrupts—though doesn’t necessarily sever—those tendrillike bonds holding her captive.

In her scintillating, provocative new book, Levy combines intellect and empathy to impressively modern effect.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-669-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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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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