A melodramatic ending adds to the flaws in what’s, still and all, a passably entertaining, fair-enough portrait of youthful...

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CHILD OF MY RIGHT HAND

Third by Goodman (In Days of Awe, 1991, etc.) is a gay coming-of-ager that never quite matures.

Simon is the son of college professors Genna and Jack Barish. His truculent but way cooler younger sister Lizzie, and Sam, the obstreperous BoBo trophy hound, round out a family that’s perfectly normal in every way except—Simon is gay, and he’s just come out while watching Father of the Bride with his parents. Recounted by Jack Barish in an extended flashback (a superfluous device at best), the story follows Simon from a performing arts academy in Cincinnati to a down-at-heels high school in the backwater town of Tipton, Ohio, site of his parents’ university. There, Simon (a gentle soul in a linebacker’s body, with an otherworldly basso voice) encounters the usual corridor cadre of homophobic bullies. Even in the impossibly rustic university town, though, Simon finds a few like-oriented classmates, such as fellow chorister Peter and trailer-trash hottie Rich. Meanwhile, Jack ricochets improbably between amazing sex with Genna and an affair that threatens to end his marriage for real this time. (The first affair only prompted Genna to drive aimlessly, like a Joan Didion heroine without LA freeways.) Jack’s research project on the possibility of a “gay gene” ties in neatly with Genna’s search for her biological father, who turns out to be gay and living in San Francisco. Mystery of Simon’s seemingly unprecedented musicality and sexual orientation solved—although even macho-progenitor Jack does have his “bi’ moment. Why Simon can’t go live with his grandfather right away is anybody’s guess, but, instead, our hero soldiers on in durance vile, triumphs in the school musical, and has a final, gratuitously catastrophic, encounter with the bullies. Certain elements—smoking-gun mash notes, for example—are left dangling.

A melodramatic ending adds to the flaws in what’s, still and all, a passably entertaining, fair-enough portrait of youthful awakening and middle-aged reckoning.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2004

ISBN: 1-4022-0306-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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