There are undoubtedly serious intentions here, and certainly some metafictional fun, but the style is too often dreary, the...

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THE COLLECTED SHORT FICTION OF GERALD MURNANE

This gathering offers some of the Australian author’s familiar themes and writing that is eccentric, thought-provoking, and maddening.

Despite the “Short Fiction” in the title, one of the pieces runs 106 pages, and two are also included in a 2005 collection of the author’s essays. Then again, Murnane (The Plains, 2017, etc.) often blurs fact and fiction. Among the collection’s almost conventional stories, “When the Mice Failed to Arrive” has hints of pedophilia and sadism as a teacher reckons with an aborted school project. “The Only Adam” describes a howling and mating ritual among eighth-graders. The title story/essay contains many of the essential Murnanesque elements. The image of two adjacent bodies of water in Melbourne sends the narrator riffing on mustaches, places, and family in an exercise similar to the “chain of thoughts” approach in Border Districts. Such rumination, along with autobiographical details, a love of books, an obsessive geographical precision, and a seeming deafness to word echoes, will characterize most of the remaining fiction: “As a child I could never be contented in a place unless I knew the names of the places surrounding that place.” The Tao of Murnane is sometimes amusing, as in “The Interior of Gaaldine,” in which a writer attending a literary event in Tasmania is asked for his thoughts on a 2,000-page manuscript that contains “a detailed chronicle of horse-racing” in an imaginary island nation. It can also be tiresome, with a style that sounds like a government report written by a bureaucrat with mild Asperger’s. The forced flatness is starkly evident when Murnane now and then slips in something like: “the saturnine men sipping their murky plum liqueurs while sunset reddened the Carpathian peaks above them.”

There are undoubtedly serious intentions here, and certainly some metafictional fun, but the style is too often dreary, the point elusive, the effect irksome and disappointing.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-12600-1

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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