SONG OF NIGHT

From a Caribbean-born writer (Fire in the Canes, 1997), a maudlin tale of a passionate woman whose strong emotions eventually lead to tragedy. The story of Cyan, or —Night,— the young black woman who loves to walk along the beach in starlight, is set in Barbados, a place where tourists are the new imperialists. Their hotels defile the ocean with sewage, their needs push the local men into menial jobs, and they use the women as prostitutes. They create an angry resentment among the locals, but few of them react as violently as the heavily pregnant Cyan. As the story begins, she has arranged to meet Amanda, an African-American tourist, who wants to buy her handiwork. Later, Cyan’s neighbors see her being taken from her home by police. (Cyan’s father, Steel, was hanged when she was 18 for murdering a man who—d been flirting with his wife.) The story of Cyan’s journey to her arrest is told in luminous prose that evokes the island but is less successful in creating credible characters. Cyan’s mother, Obe, is a study in contradictions: she fled an abusive man before marrying Steel; she burned Cyan’s hand as punishment when a neighbor accused the girl of lying; and when Steel was buried, she took up with other men. Cyan, angry and hurt, both loves and hates her mother. After they quarrel, Obe moves out and, along the way, works for a local doctor and his African- American wife; falls in love with Breeze, a local hustler; and then, deserted by him, begs tourists for money. A brief reunion with Breeze leads to pregnancy and a decision to give her baby to a visiting African-American. When a distraught Cyan changes her mind, though, it’s too late—the child is gone. Cyan has no choice but to complete the cycle of destruction that began before she was born. Despite some fine passages, generally overwritten and overwrought.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 1998

ISBN: 1-56947-122-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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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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