THE LOST SCRAPBOOK

Experimental first fiction, winner in the 12th annual FC2/Illinois State University National Fiction Competition, that offers an engaging approach to novel writing, serving up a series of fragments and anonymous testimonials. Imagine driving through some small unknown city, stopping at a house, going in and listening to the conversation at hand, then moving on to the next house. Or imagine watching television, with someone else in command of the remote control, flashing through stations, sometimes long enough to get involved in a narrative, at other times the image just a wash of color on the screen. This is what Dara's debut resembles, with its frenetic jumps and skips between narratives of various lengths. The text, though, is not written as a series of separate short pieces; there isn't any delineation between the narrators, and a whole paragraph may go by before the realization comes that the storyteller has changed. In this manner, one narrative flows into another, generating difficult reading at first, until one becomes accustomed to the subtle changes, the slight shifts in tone that signal a new story. And the stories themselves are as diverse as society, ranging from the inconsequential rambling of two college students to the panicked cry of a woman searching for help for her choking baby. The narratives dismiss traditional structure, forgoing the usual sense of catharsis, often ending at the climax, leaving the reader dangling and then plunged into some other scenario. The constant shifting could have produced a sense of apathy. But the work holds an interest, derived from the secret enjoyment of eavesdropping on a conversation at a cafÇ, or watching the goings-on in the second- floor window across the street. A fleeting, panoramic view of American life, from the trivial to the heartrending, that offers an unusual approach to storytelling.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-57366-006-X

Page Count: 470

Publisher: FC2/Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1995

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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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