A feel-good tale for the politically correct, offering bland food for thought and characters too good to be interesting.

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NAVIGATING THE DARWIN STRAITS

A young man comes of age as he learns to separate the strands of luck and genetics, idealism and practicality, that run through his life.

Jordy McNeil suffers through adolescence in his mother's hometown, a western ranching community where he is tormented by the strictures of conventionality. It doesn't help that his mother Donna is a lesbian who becomes openly involved with the local eccentric, Pat, the heroine of Forbes's first novel (Alma Rose, 1993); or that his high-school sweetheart also turns out to be a lesbian who uses their "dating" as a cover. Heartbroken, Jordy heads for the San Francisco Bay area, where he lucks into a job with stock options at a struggling computer start-up company called Ultimall—as in "ultimate shopping mall"—and flirts with consumerism. After he falls in love with yet another lesbian, he understandably feels jinxed in romance, and in actuality he never is a very convincing male character, too sensitive and lacking in carnality. His foremost drunken fantasy turns out to be of eating chocolate mousse. When Ultimall is sold for millions to a larger corporation, Jordy discovers that the money he finds himself rolling in doesn't make him happy. He tries a comically disastrous New Age spiritual vacation, then a voyage of discovery to Latin America, ending up in Seattle working with an idealistic, charmingly eccentric do-gooder. Forbes (Exit to Reality, 1997, etc.) tries earnestly to sort through the complexities inherent in good intentions, but she can't avoid a sugarcoating, even when Jordy finds himself part of genuine tragedy in a young boy's death. Filled with guilt, Jordy spends a winter in isolation—until good old Pat arrives to set him on back on track.

A feel-good tale for the politically correct, offering bland food for thought and characters too good to be interesting.

Pub Date: March 15, 2001

ISBN: 1-58005-049-2

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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