A warm-up volume for the “collected stories” that will eventually, inevitably follow.

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ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

NEW AND SELECTED STORIES

An eclectic selection of shorter fiction from a veteran author more renowned for his novels.

Following what was widely considered one of his better recent novels (Homer & Langley, 2009), the New York writer best known for his interweave of fact and fiction in Ragtime (1975) does the authorial equivalent of a closet cleaning with a dozen stories that find him adopting a variety of narrative voices and perspectives. Seven of the stories originally appeared in the New Yorker, and one of those (“Heist”) was later incorporated into the novel City of God (2000)Another, “Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate,” reads like an addendum to Billy Bathgate (1989), like the notes to a collection of songs by the protagonist, each a paragraph long (though one paragraph extends over five pages), likely inscrutable to those unfamiliar with the novel. Yet there is plenty of first-rate work here to please Doctorow fans and others who appreciate a well-told story. Many of them have a spiritual dimension, and the most provocative of these is “Walter John Harmon,” the testament of a lawyer involved with a religious cult and his growing suspicions that the unlikely prophet has designs on the narrator’s wife. The shortest story, “Willi,” ranks with the most powerful, as an older man recalls a boyhood experience in which a Whitmanesque rapture over the joys of being alive in nature proceeded to a discovery of his mother’s affair, and the uneasy mixture of betrayal and desire his mother’s sexuality elicited. “Jolene: A Life” strays far from Doctorow’s usual territory, in its narrative of a poor Southern girl whose attractiveness toward the wrong kind of men proves a curse. And while the concluding title story would seem to place the fiction in more familiar terrain, its Manhattan metaphysics are more reminiscent of Paul Auster’s New York than Doctorow’s.

A warm-up volume for the “collected stories” that will eventually, inevitably follow.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6963-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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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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