A potentially clever debut falls apart under the weight of the writer’s fascination with his own cleverness.

READ REVIEW

SCREAM QUEENS OF THE DEAD SEA

Another first-novelist attempts self-referential metafiction.

Here, the protagonist is a 26-year-old Israeli guy writing a novel while moonlighting as a nurse in a mental hospital; the author is a 36-year-old Israeli guy (who now lives in Los Angeles) who once worked in a mental hospital in Jerusalem. Gilad (yes, they share a name) is a comparative-literature and linguistics major fresh out of the Israeli army. For no discernible reason (his mother certainly disapproves),he decides to take a job as an assistant nurse (a male nurse, he repeatedly points out) babysitting lunatics at the local asylum. At least the crazies give good dialogue: one woman shouts daily that she’s dead; a man composes and recites romantic verse to a B-movie star; and a homicidal maniac insists he suffers from the hitherto-unknown Faith Deficit Disorder, which prevents him from believing in the existence of anything at all. Then there is Gilad’s married girlfriend Carmel (her husband is scheduled to die of cancer any day), with whom he has tediously predictable hard-core sex—do we really need a gratuitous necrophilia fantasy?—while both discuss dialectics of power with the earnestness of a couple of precocious college sophomores. Many road trips are taken—to Gilad’s job, to the infuriatingly bureaucratic Israeli army hospital, and finally to a casino in Jericho where Carmel and Gilad hang with a young Palestinian, during which time Gilad pontificates amusingly on heavy-metal lyrics, less amusingly on linguistics, and picks up colorful characters prone to comic monologues. But the trouble really begins when characters start butting in to offer their critiques of the novel we’re reading: Carmel complains that Gilad uses his patients as “literary fodder” and that she’s portrayed as “didactic, argumentative, moralistic” and “boring” (she’s right on both counts).

A potentially clever debut falls apart under the weight of the writer’s fascination with his own cleverness.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2004

ISBN: 1-56858-322-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more