Ultimately, Ellie’s novel is erotic, prurient and kind of boring.

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The subtitle “An Erotic Novel,” makes it clear what to expect from Becker’s first novel, translated from its original French: Fifty Shades of Grey sex weighted (or balanced depending on one’s taste) with literary pretentions.

In this metafiction, Ellie, who shares the author’s last name, writes a novel about her 10-month affair with the married Parisian surgeon she refers to as Monsieur. Ellie took her first lover, a 30-year-old, when she was 15. Now 20, a literature student living at home, Ellie pursues 46-year-old Monsieur before actually meeting him because her uncle has mentioned in passing his medical colleague’s interest in erotic literature. After Monsieur responds to her email sharing her similar interest, they carry on a sexually explicit if highly intellectual conversation through emails, texts and phone calls. Ellie is soon meeting him for Tuesday morning trysts in a hotel room. As a sign of trust, they do not use protection against STDs, despite their lack of exclusivity, or hygiene. Few will be surprised to learn that he dominates her in various ways, and she enjoys the submission, at least at first. He lets her visit him at the hospital, where their desire must be contained, barely, in front of others. Initially, she is not crazy about the anal sex—and there is a lot of anal sex—but she grows to love it. The descriptions of what goes where, particularly his hands and her “arse,” the ecstatic nature of pain and desire, domination and submission, are evocative but get repetitive after awhile. Soon, his limited time to spare becomes a problem as her physical obsession grows. Her purely sexual interest becomes more emotional than she wants to admit. Refusing to break off completely, he seems to play with her dependence, but perhaps he is as secretly obsessed as Ellie. It is hard to say because Ellie admits she learns almost nothing about him. Neither does the reader, who will find Ellie herself increasingly sad.

Ultimately, Ellie’s novel is erotic, prurient and kind of boring.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61145-761-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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