Gripping but rather implausible.



A mad housewife learns that her problems may not all be imaginary in Chapman’s disquieting debut.

Somewhere in an unnamed Scandinavian country, in an isolated village, a middle-aged woman named Marta Bjornstad has gone off her medication, unbeknownst to her doting husband, Hector. The time is apparently the present, although there is not a smartphone in sight, and the Internet is only referred to once. Hector, a schoolteacher 20 years her senior, has always been an avuncular figure in Marta’s life, ever since he rescued her, as a recently orphaned young woman, from a desperate situation whose particulars are shrouded in a haze of amnesia. Marriage to Hector has, for the last two decades or so, been pleasant but always overshadowed by hypercritical mother-in-law Matilda, who, despite her relief at Hector’s belated marriage, has always made Marta feel inadequate, however strictly she follows the precepts outlined in Matilda’s wedding gift, a retro guidebook entitled How to be a Good Wife. Now, however, Marta’s delicate equilibrium has been upset by empty-nest syndrome: Her only child, Kylan, has left home for a job in the city and is engaged to Katya, who, disturbingly, reminds Marta of her younger, dimly recalled self. As the medication wears off, Marta begins to experience some startling visions. She sees a thin girl, apparently a ballet dancer, in dreams and in real time. Like a specter out of Sixth Sense, the girl beckons, seemingly desperate to tell Marta something. Gradually, it dawns on Marta and the reader that her hallucinations may actually be emerging suppressed memories. Without spoilers it’s impossible to specify further exactly how these snippets of recalled trauma reach critical mass. Suffice to say that the twist that propels expectations in a whole new direction is masterfully wrought. However, the outcome, driven by some highly improbable circumstances and a demonstrable lack of ingenuity on the part of the protagonist, will leave readers, particularly feminists and/or victims’ advocates, very dissatisfied indeed.

Gripping but rather implausible.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-01819-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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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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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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