Despite a sugary, overly tidy ending, this is unusual, well-crafted storytelling enhanced by some telling emotional notes.

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PARADISE CITY

A handful of strangers in London find themselves connected, and changed, by dark events—sudden death, sexual assault—and the humbling of a self-made man.

Four characters narrate the new novel from British journalist-turned-author Day (Home Fires, 2013): rag-trade tycoon Sir Howard Pink; ambitious journalist Esme Reade; haunted Ugandan immigrant Beatrice Kizza; and a widow, Carol Hetherington, whose role in the story moves from peripheral to central. Pink (originally named Fink, the son of Jewish immigrants), with his passing resemblance to a real-life British businessman, starts the ball rolling via an action that brings to mind another figure from news headlines when he forces himself sexually on a black chambermaid in an upscale English hotel. The chambermaid is Beatrice, and there will be repercussions. Pink is no stranger to the media. His rags-to-riches background and high-profile, luxurious lifestyle make good copy. But he’s also known for the family tragedy that befell him 11  years earlier: the disappearance of his lovely but troubled 19-year-old daughter, Ada. Day’s journalistic experience clearly infuses her novel, not just in her borrowing of front-page events and characters or in the plausible background to Esme’s work environment, but also in the briskly efficient narration. Her characters have fully documented psychologies, rounded out with precise detail, and her plot, although it invokes big issues—race, class, sexism—delivers shrewd, well-paced storytelling. Most memorable is the trajectory of Sir Howard, the bullying outsider whose descent into self-disgust and the abject depths of sorrow is achieved with surprising impact. In his orbit, Esme’s career blossoms and Beatrice’s life swerves away from isolation and nightmare, while the once-fearless entrepreneur himself emerges from suffering and self-scrutiny a better man.

Despite a sugary, overly tidy ending, this is unusual, well-crafted storytelling enhanced by some telling emotional notes.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62040-836-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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