A virtually perfect short novel, shimmering with in-held meaning, menace, and—oddly—a kind of reassurance.

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THE BODY ARTIST

This surpassingly eerie tale from the author of such contemporary classics as End Zone (1972), White Noise (1991), and Underworld (1997) artfully blends DeLillo’s characteristic themes of paranoia and disorientation with the allure of the old-fashioned ghost story.

The (literally) beleaguered protagonist is Lauren Hartke, a performance artist whose gift for conceiving and enacting aesthetically pleasing and meaningful poses overflows into her daily life (“She is always acting, always in the process of becoming another or exploring some root identity”). Following an opening (highly charged) breakfast-table conversation between Lauren and her husband, “dark” filmmaker Rey Robles, in the remote seaside house they’re renting, an obituary notice reports his suicide—and propels Lauren into a more intense (and, ironically, transformative) relationship with the empty, noise-filled home she refuses to leave. She finds a man living in an unused bedroom: a nameless shadow of a man who speaks in provocative incomplete sentences, repeating conversations she remembers, in both Rey’s voice and her own. Then, without warning, he disappears as inexplicably as he had appeared, having profoundly altered both Lauren’s art and her grip on reality. DeLillo deepens the enigma of this central action with several evocative images: a Japanese woman watering her garden; computer pictures of a lightly traveled highway in another country; birds gathering at an outdoor feeder (readers who remember Stephen King’s The Dark Half will half-understand what’s going on)—and in numerous limpid sentences that spell out the mingled seductiveness and terror of the everyday world Lauren moves in and out of (“ . . . a skein of geese passed silently over her shoulder, flying down the world into their secret night”). Is the riddling stranger who enters “her” house an avatar of her husband’s spirit passing from “reality”—or a harbinger of her own passing? Or both?

A virtually perfect short novel, shimmering with in-held meaning, menace, and—oddly—a kind of reassurance.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-0395-X

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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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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