A rich tapestry of romance, illusory science, criminal trickery and human intrigue. Let the show begin.

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THE TRANSFORMATION OF BARTHOLOMEW FORTUNO

A man living among the oddest specimens of humanity questions his inner desires.

It must have been something, America at the end of the Civil War, and debut novelist Bryson imagines it beautifully in her inspired drama about freaks, showmen and the forces that twist our insides. Opening just after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the curtains part to reveal a sideshow within a spectacle, namely the singular attraction that was Barnum’s American Museum in New York City, owned by narcissistic showman P.T. Barnum. Bryson’s narrator is no mundane manifestation: The titular Fortuno has occupied Barnum’s stable as The World’s Thinnest Man for a decade, playing alongside his gargantuan friend Matina and a host of other “Curiosities.” Fortuno even elucidates the class system among “our kind,” cataloguing True Prodigies that diverge inexorably from humanity; Prodigies, like himself, gifted with implausible proportions; and Exotics whose talents accent their peculiarities. “Lowlifes to codfish aristocrats, they’re all alike,” Matina scoffs. “People want to feel shock, envy, and delight. They just use us to fill them up. Which, by the way, is an impossible task.” But Bartholomew is a wonderful character who doesn’t struggle against his self-image but revels in it, challenging audiences with his bravado. “When you look at me, can’t you understand yourself a bit better?” he asks. “The only difference between us is that I do not hide my inner self.” Into this heady stew Bryson pours both mystery and a love story. Fortuno’s curiosity is piqued late one evening when his master furtively escorts a veiled woman into the palace of marvels. Soon after, tempted by the lure of a new costume, Bartholomew agrees to conspire with his manipulative employer, venturing into Chinatown on secret missions and following Iell, the veiled woman, whose secrets may be the most startling of all her brethren.

A rich tapestry of romance, illusory science, criminal trickery and human intrigue. Let the show begin.

Pub Date: June 22, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9192-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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