Sensual talespinning: often evocative and involving, if a bit precious.

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THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN SISTERS

Seven sisters run a bakery after their mother’s death and father’s disappearance—in a Dutch family saga that edges toward magical realism.

Emma, raised in post–WWII rural Holland by her six aunts, her mother, and Oma, who takes the role of Grandmother although her literal relationship remains unclear, is 13 when the father she’s never known shows up in the bakery to die. Suddenly curious about her own upbringing, Emma begins to question her family, and the sisters’ history unfolds. Devout but far from conventional Catholics, the sisters are bound together despite shifting affections and loyalties. When only a teenager, Emma’s mother Martha, the oldest sister, takes over the bakery and care of her sisters. Her husband Sebastian moves into the bakery but leaves when Emma is an infant, unable to handle the household of women. The other sisters’ love lives are no happier; no man can compete with the power of their combined femininity. Fragile Marie waits seven years to marry, then returns home weeks later without comment and eventually becomes a nun. Warmhearted Christina, who is more of a mother to Emma than Martha herself, finds a wonderful loving husband, but he dies soon after the wedding. Tomboy Vincente is tricked by a scam artist. Dreamy Clara falls in love with sex, while her twin sister Camilla is forbidden to marry the hunchbacked neighbor who dies trying to cure himself at Lourdes. After Oma dies, she returns as a spirit/ghost/vision to teach Emma how to make sauerkraut and give general advice. Although they wander from the bakery, eventually the sisters end up together again, more united than ever when their long-lost father’s widow shows up (as the Oma spirit has warned) and claims ownership of the bakery. Even Emma, despite marriage and the birth of a son, is unable to escape the bakery’s spell.

Sensual talespinning: often evocative and involving, if a bit precious.

Pub Date: Dec. 24, 2002

ISBN: 0-688-17070-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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