Without fundamentally challenging the traditional short story structure, the author finds a way to bend it to suit a skewed...

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LAST DAY ON EARTH

The nine stories in this collection by Puchner (Model Home, 2010, etc.) range from the domestic to the surreal.

Even the most seemingly realistic of them, however, hint at cracks under the surface of normal life in the suburban United States. Puchner often casts an eye on the sheer strangeness of aging, whether it’s during the sudden onslaught of puberty or the slow decline from middle age onward. "Right This Instant" compresses all the agonies of adolescence into a single turning point, as confused Josh—missing his father, hating the guy who has replaced him, and newly introduced to a potent strain of marijuana by an older kid down the street—suddenly convinces himself that his mom is a robot. The oddest, and possibly the strongest, story in the volume takes this theme to its logical extreme. In "Beautiful Monsters," a boy and a girl, both “Perennials” whose aging has been delayed indefinitely at a pre-pubescent stage, are appalled and fascinated to encounter a “Senescent,” a grown man with a “strange hairy body and giant shoulders tucked in like a vulture’s.” The collection sometimes suffers from repetition of plots: an odd number of the stories, for example, hinge on crises that result when a caregiver puts a young child in radical danger. But they’re intriguingly varied in terms of characters and setting and particularly in tone. Puchner can be wildly funny, as in "Trojan Whores Hate You Back," a mordant tale of a would-be comeback tour by a punk band whose members now use hemorrhoid pillows and wear windbreakers and blue linen shorts. Or oddly touching, as in "Mothership," in which a self-involved young woman recently released from drug treatment takes her niece and nephew trick-or-treating, to mixed results.

Without fundamentally challenging the traditional short story structure, the author finds a way to bend it to suit a skewed and fantastic vision of the world.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4780-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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