Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.

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KITCHEN CURSE

Little fables of degradation from one of Indonesia’s most famous authors.

Kurniawan earned international acclaim for his epic exploration of his country’s history and folklore, Beauty Is a Wound (2015). This was the author’s first work to be published in English, and translations of his novels that have appeared since then have been increasingly disappointing. The short fictions collected in this volume continue that unfortunate trend. Kurniawan has never been afraid to shy away from the grotesque and the squalid, but, with stories like “Graffiti in the Toilet” and “Don’t Piss Here,” he seems to be daring readers to look away. More importantly, these very brief tales seem to be gross for the sake of being gross. The violence and filth and sexual transgression in Beauty Is a Wound served a larger purpose in depicting a country with a complicated, troubled past and contemporary political and economic challenges. To the extent that there is a hint of substantive content, it’s difficult to discern how much of it will be of interest only to an Indonesian audience. For example, the story “Rotten Stench” describes—in one seven-page sentence—a massacre in the fictional city of Halimunda that echoes a similar atrocity that occurred 18 years earlier. It’s sickening, certainly, and the structural choice Kurniawan makes propels us forward even when we might want to stop, and one might make the argument that the author’s decision to provide almost no context for these scenes of chickens picking at the genitals of corpses (the word “genitals” appears a lot in these stories) and “flesh and blood that had congealed into porridge” suggests a certain nauseating universality, but…how many readers will understand the barely enumerated distinctions between these two massacres, and how many need a graphic lesson in why mass murder is, generally speaking, bad?

Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78663-715-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Verso

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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