Completists will search for clues in this slight but rich volume to the maturation of DeLillo’s artistry.

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THE ANGEL ESMERALDA

The renowned author’s first story collection presents a chronological progression of nine narratives, organized into three parts, challenging readers to make connections.

Though DeLillo’s legacy rests with his longer work, building to the epic scope and scale of Underworld (1997), this collection feels more like his more recent novels—short, elliptical, suggestive, provocative. He originally published the opening story, “Creation,” in 1979, but hasn’t published a whole lot of stories since. Some of what were originally published as stories, such as the one that gives this volume its title, have subsequently been reworked into novels (as “Angel” was into Underworld), while other published stories have not been selected for inclusion here. So the reader starts with questions, as always with DeLillo. Why these stories, grouped into these three parts? Is the organizing principle thematic, or stylistic, or is it possible to separate the two within the writing of America’s premier post-modernist? Often the characters are unnamed, as in “Baader-Meinhof” (2002), in which a chance encounter between two unemployed people at an art exhibition—with politically charged images of imprisonment, torture, corpses—leads to an unusual connection that one of them finds disturbing. Somewhat similarly, though this time the protagonist has a name, “The Starveling” (2011) finds two people making an unlikely, tenuous connection through their obsessive routines of seeing a series of movies at multiple theaters daily, though the relationship between the two only seems to exist in the mind of one of them. The title story (1994) provides the book’s centerpiece, with its glimpses of the holy amid the ubiquity of the profane, within a ravaged Bronx detailed in prose of terrible beauty. In “The Runner” (1988), the unnamed protagonist muses, after witnessing an accident, “The car, the man, the mother, the child. Those are the parts. But how do the parts fit together?” Readers often might find themselves wondering the same, but part of what distinguishes DeLillo’s work is the way in which he engages the world rather than settling for the literary parlor tricks of some virtuoso experimentalists.

Completists will search for clues in this slight but rich volume to the maturation of DeLillo’s artistry.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5584-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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