Brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny.

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FOX

Another tricky treasure from an internationally renowned author.

Ugresic has been in exile from her native Croatia since the region emerged as a country after the breakup of Yugoslavia. A vocal critic of nationalism, she was, she says, branded a “whore, a witch, and a traitor.” It’s that second slur that is most intriguing when it comes to reading the author’s work. In Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (2010), she used a magical crone from Slavic folklore as a lens through which to view contemporary women’s lives. Here, she takes inspiration in the vulpine creature who gives this new book its name. As a mythic figure, the fox takes on and sheds attributes as he—or she—travels across cultures, but one characteristic seems to remain constant: The fox is an ambivalent type. By making the fox a sort of mascot to the first part of her novel, a section called “A Story about How Stories Come to Be Written,” Ugresic is creating an affinity between the writer and the trickster. Even at her most straightforward, Ugresic is a sly storyteller, and here she is using every trick in the postmodernist playbook. Indeed, there are moments when it seems like she’s pulling a fast one even when she isn’t. For example, a reader who isn’t knowledgeable about early-20th-century Russian literature might be forgiven for thinking Okay! An American Novel by Boris Pilnyak is an invention simply because that title is just too perfect. If Okay! is Ugresic’s creation, it’s a clever one. But the reader who bothers to Google is in for the delightful discovery that both Pilnyak and his “American novel” are real. Then we’re left to wonder what true and false mean in fiction anyway, a question Ugresic complicates by using a first-person narrator and autobiographical detail. The translators deserves special mention, too. “The fox meets frequently with affliction, and is thus consigned to loserdom, its personal attributes preventing contiguity with higher mythological beings.” The juxtaposition of “loserdom” and “contiguity” is not only funny; it also captures the high-low essence of Ugresic’s style.

Brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940953-76-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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