An outrageous, deftly crafted send-up of Hollywood.

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ALL THE LITTLE SPARROWS

Amid tropical wilds on an imaginary reality-TV show, screenwriters of assorted skill levels and persuasions do what they do best—endlessly, shamelessly promoting themselves while perfecting their pitches—in this imaginative, if far-fetched, screwball comedy.

Set in a heightened version of the media-besotted present, the new novel by Maffei (And of the Holy Ghost, 2010, etc.) pits multiple crews of aspiring screenwriters against one another in fierce competition for the Big Prize—getting their screenplay produced. It’s American Idol crossed with Fantasy Island, by way of Gilligan’s Island, with perhaps a touch of Nashville. The author gleefully plays with stereotypes of gender, race and nationality, giving most of his sparrows—the ostensible contestants (there may be more going on with the reality TV show than meets the eye)—the monstrous ambition and cartoonish egos necessary for would-be players in Hollywood. There’s plenty of sex (mostly consensual, some polymorphous perverse) and drugs (booze and lots of “tea,” but only a whiff of coke) to keep the sparrows busy in between bouts of ostentatious cleverness and somewhat contrived showdowns, but no rock ’n’ roll to speak of; it’s all jazz and show tunes on set. Cinematic references abound: the participants natter on amusingly about their favorite films, and the heaps of sly allusions to the industry and its alpha dogs (real and imaginary) help keep the reader engaged—even as the almost random plotting runs amok over the course of the book’s three sections. Backstabbing, behind-the-scenes power brokering and gleeful betrayals keep the pacing lively. Add an ending that’s a mash-up of The Apple (sans disco) and A Chorus Line (without the dancing), and you get a quaintly surreal pop-culture trip that’s wittily self-conscious, sexy and assured. The only thing lacking is a delightfully silly mockumentary available to watch instantly on Netflix.

An outrageous, deftly crafted send-up of Hollywood.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-1451576993

Page Count: 282

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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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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