Sometimes slight, but always impressive: an important addition to the chorus of heavier, more lifeless tomes on the subject.

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WINDOWS ON THE WORLD

From the restaurant that once had the best views in town, 9/11 is witnessed minute by agonizing minute.

Beigbeder (99 Francs, not reviewed) isn’t afraid of taking a risk: a Frenchman writing about a subject incredibly sensitive to Americans, and a subject he has no firsthand knowledge of. Fortunately, he’s got plenty of ideas and not much by way of axes to grind. The novel (it appeared in France in 2003) comes at its story from a couple of angles. The first, the famous restaurant just minutes before the first plane hits, is the obvious attention-grabber. We relive the event through the eyes of some of the victims, most importantly a father who’d brought his two boys up for breakfast. Beigbeder also introduces himself (or a barely concealed facsimile) as a wandering French author in the present day, trying to wrap his mind around the disaster and mostly coming up only with scattered conjectures and heat ’n’ serve theories. The book is heavy with frustration, both on the part of the author, detesting his own ineffectuality, and on the part of the victims, trapped in the restaurant between the burning wreckage of the plane below and the locked rooftop door above. While Beigbeder’s own maunderings about the cause and effect of 9/11 do provide for some divertingly ruminative passages—he has no trace of Euro-intelligentsia knee-jerk dislike of America—but, ultimately, the victims here are the most eloquent witnesses. Beigbeder is unafraid to shed light on the more tragically horrifying aspects of the attacks, at least as far as he can imagine them, and there are several moments of pure soul-aching sadness. And in the end, this is a story without answers, but one that takes the worst that humanity can dish out and faces it down, unflinchingly.

Sometimes slight, but always impressive: an important addition to the chorus of heavier, more lifeless tomes on the subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-4013-5223-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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