Well-crafted and intelligent, but strains the reader’s patience.

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ALL THESE GIRLS

Just three girls, actually, all of them tall and hard-edged, bound together by kinship and stubbornness.

Slezak’s short, eloquent collection, Last Year’s Jesus (2001), evinced a powerful sense of place, most specifically the old ethnic Catholic neighborhoods of Detroit and the Upper Midwest. That’s still evident in her first novel, so it doesn’t matter a lot that she doesn’t have much of a story to tell. The triumvirate of gloomy “girls” who make up Slezak’s tale are Candy, a plucky high-school basketball prodigy; her aunt Elizabeth, a perennially depressed serial divorcée and increasingly lousy guidance counselor; and Elizabeth’s aunt Glo, far more religious than either her niece or grandniece and not happy about that fact. Elizabeth has run off to LA, widowed Glo lives alone in Chicago, and Candy’s back in Detroit; the event that stitches them all back together is the sudden death of Candy’s mother Melissa, who had not long before wrested her life from debilitating alcoholism. Since neither Glo nor Elizabeth takes up the slack after the funeral, Candy goes to live with a best friend and her control-freak mother. Events come to a crisis when the school’s basketball coach takes off for northern Michigan after being accused on flimsy evidence of sleeping with Candy, who quits the team. Elizabeth is enticed back to the Midwest by Glo, and the two of them pick up Candy to take the Michigan version of a Wisconsin Death Trip: a pilgrimage to a shrine north of Detroit called Cross in the Woods. Slezak doesn’t move things along with any sense of hurry, taking plenty of time to bat around inside the neurotic, unhappy minds of her women. While her perceptions are undoubtedly sharp, and in Candy at least she creates a memorable and unusual portrait of angered adolescence, the novel as a whole is moribund and static.

Well-crafted and intelligent, but strains the reader’s patience.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7868-6742-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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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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