A novel undone by Lee’s indecisiveness over how much slack to cut his protagonist, the obnoxious Joshua.

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THE COLLECTIVE

During college and afterwards, some aspiring Asian-American artists figure out their identities in this third novel from the former editor of Ploughshares (Wrack and Ruin, 2008, etc.). 

Eric Cho, the narrator, is a third generation Korean-American from California. In 1988 he arrives at Macalester, a small liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn. Unformed and eager to please, he falls under the influence of Joshua Yoon, a Korean orphan adopted and raised lovingly by two Harvard professors, both Jews. While Joshua, a loudmouth and provocateur, complains about the pervasiveness of racism, Eric finds a willing girlfriend in Didi, a blonde Irish Catholic from Boston. When Didi ends the relationship, it’s an I-told-you moment for Joshua; obviously she had just been slumming. He presses his point home in a creative writing class (both he and Eric are would-be novelists) by savagely attacking a white girl’s story; she retaliates, leaving a racist slur outside his dorm. Eric draws closer to Joshua and Jessica, a Taiwanese-American art student; they style themselves the 3AC (Asian American Artists Collective). Eric also acknowledges that they are “insufferable twits.” After graduation, all three find themselves in Boston. They expand the Collective to include a range of avant-garde types intent on combating media stereotypes of Asians, but it never really gets off the ground; the group can’t even agree on a mission statement for the website. Joshua’s leadership has failed. Years later, after his suicide (Lee uses it as a hook for his opening), Eric concludes that “Joshua was a liar, a narcissist, a naysayer, a bully, and a misogynist.” Add to that list: a bore. Lee doesn’t persuade us that Joshua has the charisma necessary to keep Eric in thrall to him. In lieu of a plot, he gives Eric another doomed relationship, and then a controversy and media circus over a risqué installation of Jessica’s that celebrates the Asian phallus. 

A novel undone by Lee’s indecisiveness over how much slack to cut his protagonist, the obnoxious Joshua.

Pub Date: July 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08321-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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