MONSIGNOR QUIXOTE

The theological shade of Greene—in a wispy, undramatic, but charming modern-day fable, loosely paralleling the Cervantes classic. Quixote here is Father Quixote, a Spanish village-priest and a supposed descendant of the original Don. But while Don Q. defiantly stayed true to the Old Chivalry, Father Q. clings to the Old Theology—"just having faith." And, after rather accidentally becoming a Monsignor, aging Father Quixote is virtually forced out of his beloved El Toboso parish by the cruel Bishop—so he sets off on some travels in his beloved, senile Fiat (called "Rocinante," of course), with the Communist ex-Mayor of El Toboso as his Sancho Panza. Much of this small book, then, consists of the witty yet weighty theological/political dialogues between Catholic and Communist: sipping wine, they compare the relative evils of Stalin and Torquemada; they contrast faith in God with faith in Marx; Monsignor Q. reads the Manifesto, finding some unlikely spirituality in it; matters of doctrine (e.g., birth control) are debated; and they'll eventually agree that Quixote is a "Catholic in spite of the Curia" while the Mayor is a "Communist. . . in spite of the Politburo." But meanwhile, on their raggedy travels to Madrid and the countryside, this ideologically pure duo attracts repressive attention from the State and the Church. They are harassed by the post-Franco Guardia. The utterly innocent priest's wayward behavior en route—allowing the Mayor to try on his collar, mistakenly going to a dirty movie (even worse, chuckling at it!)—leads to his Bishop-ordered abduction, virtual house arrest, and clerical suspension. And finally, after the Mayor rescues the Monsignor, there'll be a final journey—to a literal confrontation with the Church's commerciality (Quixote is furious over a money-covered statue of Our Lady) and a final, fatal runin with the State. An unsubtle parable? Indeed—especially when compared with the fuller version of similar themes (and the far richer central characterization) in The Power and the Glory. But Greene mixes village-comedy with philosophical repartee in a unique, grave-yet-sparkling fashion—and, while his usual fiction audience may find this even less satisfying than Dr. Fischer of Geneva, theologically-oriented readers (not to mention Comp. Lit. aficionados) will be quite steadily, amusingly engaged.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1982

ISBN: 0143105523

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1982

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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