Heady stuff, for readers who like to read writers writing about writers who write about writing.



A philosophical jigsaw puzzle of a novel dares the reader to discover how the pieces fit together.

Taking his structural cues from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Josipovici (Now, not reviewed) presents variations on recurring motifs through 30 interlocking stories. The result is a small work (most of the stories are little more than snippets) filled with big ideas, as the Italian-born, England-based professor (Univ. of Sussex) shows the wide range of literary interests and intellectual curiosity that have marked his prolific career as a writer of stories, novels, plays and criticism. The set-up is simple: A 19th century British gentleman named Tobias Westfield, who fancies himself a philosopher, suffers from insomnia caused by an overactive brain. After summoning a musician who isn’t able to play Westfield to sleep, he decides to hire a writer named Samuel Goldberg to read him to sleep. Goldberg needs the money enough to leave his beloved family for the assignment, yet soon discovers that the challenge is trickier than expected. Rather than reading to Westfield from books, whose ideas are so familiar that the insomniac can ignore them, Goldberg must write enough original material by day to fill the night until Westfield starts snoring. And the writing must be sufficiently compelling to relieve Westfield of his own thoughts, yet not so compelling as to keep him awake. In a labyrinthine fashion that occasionally recalls Borges or Calvino, the book the reader is reading initially appears to be the one Goldberg is writing—an extended letter to his wife. Yet subsequent chapters take different tacks, offering vignettes of the lives of the two men, meditations on memory and mortality, invocations of Homer and Shakespeare, and the belated appearance of another writer, whom the reader is invited to identify with the author, and who expresses his own dissatisfactions with the work in progress that the reader is reading.

Heady stuff, for readers who like to read writers writing about writers who write about writing.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-089723-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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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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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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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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