Not nearly as ambitious as its marketing suggests.



Wittenborn (Zoe, 1983, not reviewed) attempts a comeback with a stab at an updated Huck Finn.

Young Finn Earl isn’t the type to run off with slaves; rather, he’s the type who gets arrested for trying to buy cocaine in New York for his mother, a masseuse/addict only a few emotional years ahead of our precocious 15-year-old narrator. As luck has it, Finn’s arrest can be remedied if mom agrees to take what looks like a shady job as a private masseuse for Osborne, an aging mogul in New Jersey. This is north Jersey, so Finn is suddenly privy to the ways of many a rich brat. From there, it’s the usual parade of adolescent pimples, premature ejaculations, and primal scenes. Soon, Finn is teamed up not with Jilly, the titillating exhibitionist daughter of the maid, but with Maya, the titillating exhibitionist granddaughter of Osborne. But hold on. Turns out Osborne’s a eunuch and he’s not sleeping with mom after all. Instead, mom’s exploring romantic possibilities with a local doctor, and, stop the presses!, it’s Jilly who gets pregnant instead of Maya. And what’s to become of Finn’s missing anthropologist father, whose study of the Yanomamo people of South America has been a refrain of Finn’s all along? The narrative threatens to take an interesting turn when, on his way, finally, to do it with Maya, Finn is attacked and raped, but unfortunately he just takes it in smarmy stride: “I had been trying to lose my virginity, but not like this.” Wittenborn wants to be compared to Twain and Fitzgerald, but his character is just talky where Huck is a storyteller, Finn’s neither as wise nor as naive as his namesake, and the tale is wannabe soap opera (Will Jilly get that abortion? Might Osborne be Finn’s real father?).

Not nearly as ambitious as its marketing suggests.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-58234-242-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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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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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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