TOO COOL

Willard Motley’s Knock on Any Door (“Live fast, die young, and make a good-looking corpse”) gets shifted from big-city slums to Colorado small towns and Denver by the self-assured Brenna (The Holy Book of the Beard, 1996, etc.), who moves like cat through the roiling minds and bodies of his adolescent characters. Brenna does a strong job with his young hoods and their girlfriends, though his stabs at feeding Kafka and the farm poetry of Chouinard into his hero, the too-cool Triple E (a.k.a. Elbert Earl Evans), feel forced. The story opens with the 16-year-old Triple E having busted out of Goodpastures Correctional Facility, stolen a car, and met up with his girl Jeanne Marie Windriver, his young cousin Ava, and her boyfriend Tom Patch. Nearly broke, the four get lost in a blizzard in the Rockies, need food and gas, and of course are driving this stolen Oldsmobile. These are kids for whom any fantasy presents itself as a good plan. Pulling out from a gas station after not paying, the now-threesome (Ava’s left, never to return) find themselves chased by cops. Triple E chooses to avoid a roadblock by turning off onto an unplowed sideroad, where the car stalls in heavy snow. Tom Patch sets out for the highway to find a farm—and a four-wheeler to haul them out—and is never seen again. Triple E heads off the other way, leaving Jeanne in the car with the heater on, and at last finds an abandoned farmhouse, where he builds a fire. He returns for Jeanne, who is half-dead from asphyxia. Fed into this simple plotline, background scenes show Triple E‘s horrible parents, his hunger for thoughtless violence, his hobbies (boxing, poetry), and sundry unpleasantnesses as his romance with Jeanne turns into a Colorado Romeo and Juliet on adrenalin. Brenna marvelously balances social sketches with man-against-nature blizzard scenes. But, like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, E’s a hard kid to care about.

Pub Date: July 13, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-48971-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1998

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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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