A minor effort, but a nice tribute to some of the author’s literary progenitors.

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HOTEL DE DREAM

A NEW YORK NOVEL

Dying of tuberculosis, Stephen Crane dictates a novel about a boy prostitute in another fact-based fiction from White (My Lives, 2006, etc.).

As in Fanny (2003), the author offers a “fantasia on real themes provided by history.” Stephen Crane did die in 1900, and his common-law wife Cora did once run a brothel in Florida called the Hotel de Dream. The dying writer may have met a teenaged male prostitute in the 1890s and begun a novel about him; a “Postface” quotes a document left behind by a critic who knew Crane, but acknowledges that it may be a fabrication. It provides a handy jumping-off point, however, for The Painted Boy, White’s clever act of literary ventriloquism that applies Crane’s trademark stripped-down prose to the subject of homosexuality, so out-of-bounds in the 19th century that White shows the writer’s friend and fellow novelist Hamlin Garland telling him, “These are the best pages you’ve ever written and if you don’t tear them up, every last word, you’ll never have a career.” Interspersed among passages describing Crane’s final months, the story of a country boy turned big-city whore and his doomed love for a banker is interesting enough, but without the shock value it would have had in 1900 it seems merely a standard piece of American naturalism. Far better are White’s portraits of the earthy Cora and of Crane’s literary friends: Henry James, with his elaborate, endless sentences and underlying shrewdness; artistic comrade-in-arms Joseph Conrad, bristling with energy and ideas. Crane’s personality is more shadowy, perhaps because his energies are all absorbed by dying. White’s best sentences acutely capture the contrast between two writers he admires for very different reasons: “James had thought about his art for half a century and devoted all his life force to it, but Stevie laughed at it all, would never be caught saying a word about ‘art’…and yet Stevie was the great American stylist.”

A minor effort, but a nice tribute to some of the author’s literary progenitors.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-085225-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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