Maybe Lombardo’s hip-shooting imagery is part of the point he’s making: history as a nightmare from which these characters...

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GRAFFITI PALACE

The 1965 Watts riots become the backdrop for one man’s journey through a long night of terror, wonder—and semiotic inquiry.

Americo Monk sees himself as “kind of an amateur urbanologist,” an aficionado of artistic vandalism (aka graffiti), and an underground researcher into the myriad street gangs which declare whole sections of Los Angeles as their armed camp. On the evening of Aug. 11, 1965, when white police make a traffic stop in the streets of predominantly black Watts that sets off a powder keg of pent-up resentments, Monk had been roaming nearby, scribbling random arcana into the notebook that’s never left his side. Now he’s been swept up in the fiery chaos of the city’s worst race riot, far from the home he’s made with his pregnant girlfriend, Karmann Ghia, near an abandoned cargo depot along Los Angeles Harbor. So begins Monk’s rowdy, near-hallucinatory search for a way back “south, toward the harbor.” Throughout Monk’s odyssey, he’s buffeted and bounced through a series of heart-stopping perils and exotic diversions. Besides the inevitable hassles with LAPD detectives, two of whom covet Monk’s notebook for its gang-related info, the people Monk encounters along the way include a phlegmatic “mosquito abatement” officer going about his business in the back alleys, short-tempered Chinese gangsters who’ve waged bloody all-out war over fortune cookies, a Nation of Islam contingent led by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad himself, and even the notorious Tokyo Rose as she’s lugging a bag of jazz LPs to her house. As Monk dodges and weaves his way through the festering, sweltering maelstrom, Karmann, depicted as a kind of Penelope to Monk’s Odysseus, tries to keep some kind of order during an unruly rent party. In his debut novel, Lombardo, who flashes impressive stylistic chops throughout, seems to be aiming for his own jazz-inflected version of a Joycean “night town” ramble infused with history, urban legend, dark comedy, and mythological tropes. Sometimes he gets carried away, though. If, for instance, Edward R. Murrow was really doing a CBS newscast on TV three months after he died and four years after he quit the network, then the novel really is a hallucination trumping actual history.

Maybe Lombardo’s hip-shooting imagery is part of the point he’s making: history as a nightmare from which these characters are trying to awake. And nothing in a nightmare is supposed to make sense.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-16591-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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