An awkward hybrid, with an overly oblique message, but it has its moments.

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ANIMALS

Cannibalism is standard First World practice in this debut novel, a futuristic satire whose target is today’s factory farming.

It’s the early 22nd century, and yurn (human flesh) is on every menu. LePan’s novel moves forward on two tracks. There’s the story proper, about a victim and his two families; and then there’s a didactic essay by one Broderick Clark, which provides context for the victim’s horrifying ordeal. How humans came to eat their own flesh has two explanations. The first is economic. After the so-called great extinctions of farm animals, caused by disease, demand arose for another protein-rich food source. Supply was at hand. Little by little, the handicapped came to be seen as subhuman; this shift in perception explains our willingness to eat them. They were renamed mongrels. The cute ones became family pets, to replace disappeared cats and dogs. The rest became chattels on special farms; around age nine, they would be harvested (slaughtered). Which brings us to little Sam, born deaf into a poor family. His loving, distraught mother is forced to leave him on the porch of a better-off family, whose only child, Naomi, insists they adopt him as a pet. All goes well until her mother Carrie, alarmed by Naomi’s close involvement with the creature, pays a facilitator to take him off their hands. After that it’s the chattel farm, where Sam’s fate is sealed. There is suspense and pathos in his story, but periodically we are jerked back to Broderick’s overview, a clever pastiche of a footnoted academic paper. A more skillful writer would have integrated the essay and narrative. As LePan makes clear in the afterword, the barbaric conditions in the chattel pens mirror today’s factory farms, though the attraction/repulsion of human flesh-eating distracts from his propagandist’s point that our solicitude for pets and wild animals should encompass farm animals too.

An awkward hybrid, with an overly oblique message, but it has its moments.

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59376-277-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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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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