An original, insightful debut that doesn’t quite fit in a box—but checks them all.

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EXQUISITE MARIPOSA

A bighearted, eccentric millennial navigates her messy coming-of-age in Los Angeles.

Duncan’s unique debut follows a fictional Fiona Alison Duncan, a writer who moves from New York City to Los Angeles. In LA, Fiona sublets a room in an apartment called La Mariposa and begins dreaming up a reality show starring herself and her broke, beautiful, 20-something roommates. In their search for “the Real” (an almost unattainable state of living), Fiona pitches the show as “A real Real World” before realizing the inherent inauthenticity: “But the means I sought to make our dreams known were too mixed up in the Dream. To be seen, moneyed, on-screen.” So she breaks the contract and writes a novel (this novel) instead. Along with thoughtful insights about capitalism, feminism, and politics, the novel is full of fads and trends: Instagram, social media branding, astrology, vegan ice cream, and nutritional yeast to name a few. In one clever moment, Duncan addresses the way trends exist within greater power structures: “Astrology’s gone in and out of style before; right now, it’s peaking in popularity, because people are desperate for a meaning system more nourishing than capitalism.” The novel also ruminates on the knottiness of money, work, female ambition, art, and power. Fiona is a writer who struggles with her artistic impulse to capture the world in a medium that will always fall short. She writes that “what [she] made was never as beautiful as the reality it reached toward,” and yet she tries. The novel is highbrow and lowbrow; about everything and nothing; and wholly of this particular cultural moment—in a good way. If there were such a thing as a “millennial novel,” this is how it should be defined: chaotic, earnest, honest, and curious. Duncan has written a sharp and astute work of metafiction

An original, insightful debut that doesn’t quite fit in a box—but checks them all.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59376-578-1

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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