LOOK BACK ALL THE GREEN VALLEY

You’re probably not human if you don’t laugh out loud and wipe away tears all the way through this delightful continuation of the much-loved North Carolina poet and novelist’s Kirkman saga (Farewell, I—m Bound to Leave You, 1996, etc.). This fourth installment is again narrated by Jess Kirkman, a teacher and poet who has meandered some distance away from his family’s strong roots in the amiable town of Tipton (near Asheville)—as Jess is reminded by his plainspoken mother Cora, whose looming death from congestive heart failure brings him to her bedside, then to the task of ensuring that she and his late father Joe Robert, ten years gone, may be buried together (a fussy local ordinance having created problems). That task becomes a Dantesque journey (Jess has, not so coincidentally, embarked on a translation of the Inferno) to the nearby towns (bearing names like Vestibule, Downhill, and Easy) where the exuberant Joe Robert—a farmer, teacher, and self-taught would-be astronaut—traveled, perhaps doing good deeds, perhaps dallying with a dozen or so unknown women (a “treasure map” Jess finds among his father’s possessions suggests multiple possibilities). Jess’s searches are skillfully juxtaposed against richly detailed memories of his own youth and his father’s prime (the episode describing his tiny sister Mitzi’s abortive venture into prizefighting is a Mark Twain—like gem), and increasingly revelatory visits with the still sharp-witted Cora. The story climaxes at a lively picnic attended by all the Kirkmans’ nearest and dearest, and concludes—as it began—with Jess digging up his father’s coffin (to be moved), and unearthing a wonderful, transfiguring surprise. A work of matchless ingenuity and eloquence—heartwarmingly funny, deeply moving, and populated by a countyful of folks you’ll wish you could meet and get to know. Chappell’s Kirkman novels are among the finest fiction of our time—even if they’re too modest and polite to come right out and say so.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-24215-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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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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