An often obvious, generally unpleasant novel studded with glimmers of brilliance.

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HONEY, I KILLED THE CATS

Prizewinning Polish novelist/journalist/playwright Masłowska returns with a grotesque phantasmagoria of consumer excess set in a nightmarish American city.

First published in 2012 and now translated into English by Paloff, this novel is less concerned with plot than with the construction of its relentlessly miserable surreality, a near-future America courtesy of Hieronymus Bosch. But to the extent there is a plot, it is the dissolution of a friendship between two young woman, Farah and Joanne, who had “hit it off fatally right from the get-go.” But then Jo falls in love with a “pathetic—yes, pathetic, in Fah’s opinion—salesman at a kitchen and bath store, allegedly with a degree in Hungarian studies,” ditching Fah for her new coupled life of extreme public displays of affection. This repulses Fah for several reasons—it is not only that, in this new world order, Fah barely exists, but also that Jo has what Fah does not, which is cosmically unfair given that Jo isn’t even attractive. And so Fah is left to traverse the vapid maw of a city mostly alone but having “resolved unequivocally to open herself to the richness of existence” thanks to a book—“A Life Filled With Miracles: Learn to See the Magic of Existence in Just 14 Days, by Manfred Peterson, Ph.D.,” which she’d found, by chance, in her building’s laundry room. Masłowska’s (Snow White and Russian Red, 2005) critique of manic hypercapitalism has the subtlety of a battering ram: The young people who hang out on “Bohemian Street,” for example are viciously wealthy; poverty is now a high-fashion aesthetic. There are ads promising “Free brain reduction with every enlargement (penis or both breasts)” and headlines offering tips for sexier abortions. Mostly, this breezy cynicism is exhausting without feeling especially fresh, but Masłowska does occasionally reach darkly delightful new heights: A description of a trendy cafe offering “little tables where dogs can sit down with their MacBooks” is so absurdly extended—and so deranged in its detail—that it’s genuinely funny. Likewise, her analysis of human behavior is, every so often, shocking in its precision. If only it happened more frequently.

An often obvious, generally unpleasant novel studded with glimmers of brilliance.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-941920-82-4

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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