Middling literary erotica: not quite Kundera but raw enough to satisfy a curious teenager.

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THE CAROUSEL OF DESIRE

“He had made love to her so well that she hated him”: a steamy Belgian bestseller makes its way across the pond.

Buttocks, breasts, orgasms, parakeets; life isn’t all chocolate and roses on the Place d’Arezzo, but it’s not too bad, either, especially if you’re Zachary Bidermann, who, by virtue of being “a trained economist,” has climbed the ladder all the way up to the more ethereal elevations of the European Union. He also enjoys a priapic second career, though not indiscriminately; he would never dream, say, of entangling himself with his secretary, Madame Singer, who, à la a certain presidential candidate, wears “a tight navy blue pantsuit” and a thin smile. Madame Singer may be shapeless and humorless, but she knows a thing or two about the world. So does M. de Couvigne, a prominent banker who, among other things, is called to explain to a young son that certain men enjoy kissing each other as “a mommy and daddy do,” then is delighted when the kid reacts with revulsion at the thought. Of course, kids find kissing pretty icky anyway, but no matter; just about everyone in this book, the first full-length novel by Schmitt (Three Women in a Mirror, 2013, etc.) to appear in English, is pretty icky, too, man and woman and bird alike. (Yes, bird.) The story picks up when news of Zachary’s epic thrusting gets out, and suddenly he’s seen not as a charming Casanova but instead as the creepy kin of Dominique Strauss-Kahn: “While your own wife was just a few yards away, throwing a party in your honor, you forced yourself on a poor woman!” shouts a colleague, to which Zachary merely shrugs. The takedown, hundreds of pages in the coming, so to speak, is well-deserved. Still, Schmitt’s novel too often verges on high-minded smut; at those points, it’s a Jacqueline Susann yarn with fewer drugs and better furniture. Birds, too.

Middling literary erotica: not quite Kundera but raw enough to satisfy a curious teenager.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-60945-346-6

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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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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