This is a readable debut whose lapses into triteness betray the author's youth even as they belie his potential.

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A GOOD FAMILY

In 2011, a Chicago family splinters under the impact of crises that range from marital strife to war crimes.

The fissures in the Brunson household began to form decades ago, but they have widened in the past two years since the father, Henry, moved from a suburban home to a city penthouse and frequent infidelities. That was around the time older son Charlie gave up the good first job his father had arranged and enlisted to fight in Afghanistan. Now the mother, Julie, drifts through days on Zoloft, while her younger son, Barkley, is about to emerge from years of suffering by comparison with his always-a-winner brother to get his first girlfriend and real job as a teacher. Charlie, meanwhile, returns with PTSD after too many horrific incidents in the Stan. And Henry, who has built a life and career on machismo, sees age and cancer batter his job, sex life, and self-confidence. Fassnacht creates plausible but unsurprising transformations for his quartet in a story that often threatens to lacquer insight and sympathy with cliché. So the eloquence in his description of Julie’s Zoloft fog impresses more than her revival of a youthful passion through a dance studio for women over 40. Charlie’s efforts to expiate war guilt in private candlelit rituals aren’t nearly as convincing as the pleasure he gets from being mauled in a drunken fight. Barkley’s emergence as the lovable Barkinator of his private-school students lacks the sharp edges of his battles with the insidious pettifoggery of the department head. And Henry’s alpha posturing isn’t nearly as distinctive as the moments when he recalls the effect on a 12-year-old of his father’s death.

This is a readable debut whose lapses into triteness betray the author's youth even as they belie his potential.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05928-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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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