Digressive, with its best points lost in the excesses.




A disenchanted TV writer withdraws into the recesses of his mind to escape the pressures of day-to-day life and pen his memoirs.

Ralph Jonas is a television writer in the 1960s—a well-read man of numerous trades, plagued by a lack of artistic satisfaction and unable to cope with the larger-than-life characters of Hollywood’s studio system. His anxieties force him inward, to the novel’s titular bar that exists only in his mind, an establishment frequented by an endless array of baseball players, historical figures, personal acquaintances and literary characters. Jonas spends his time at Mneme’s Place drinking, reliving past experiences and keeping (mostly) to himself while thinking up clever ways to organize the patrons. He hopes to assemble all of this into his great novel—a final account of the lives of his writing partners, his family and, most importantly, the Isaacson’s, the eccentric immigrant family on his mother’s side. Wolfe’s (Double Feature, 2008) novel is a book of organization and lists in a stream-of-consciousness style, which presents as tedious namedropping of fictional, historical and sports personalities. Rarely do these lists further the narrative, and more often they slow the novel’s progression to a crawl, while a solid plot never takes shape, leaving the reader with interesting characters that have no story in which to function. Still, there’s a clear love of language, and when not lost in its verbosity, some of the word play and puns are charming. Other turns of phrases that are less clever are made adroit by the unfounded pleasure Jonas seems to take in them, and the character’s penchant for self-congratulation despite his low opinion of himself makes him more memorable than any of the characters he attempts to capture in his writing. The lampooning of writers, and the exploration of themes such as artistic frustration and accomplishment, particularly with the medium’s struggle to depict certain aspects of real life, will resonate with many, especially those who write themselves.

Digressive, with its best points lost in the excesses.

Pub Date: May 17, 2011

ISBN: 978-1462017140

Page Count: 296

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 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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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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