Sumptuously imagined and fashioned with a master craftsman’s attentiveness and finesse. Brilliant work.

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THE LAST CROSSING

An ambitious sixth outing from the Saskatchewan author who has twice won Canada’s Governor General’s Award (for Man Descending, 1985, and The Englishman’s Boy, 1997).

The search for a missing brother adds a mythic dimension to Vanderhaeghe’s complex plot, initiated by the mission imposed by wealthy Victorian industrialist Henry Gaunt on his sons Charles, a painter of little accomplishment and no renown, and Addington, a reckless former soldier best remembered for his considerable responsibility for a massacre of Irish “rabble.” The brothers are to scour the American and Canadian northwestern territories (the year is 1871) and locate Charles’s twin Simon, who has disappeared during his mission accompanying Reverend Obadiah Witherspoon, who means to convert “savages” to Christianity. Once the Gaunts are thus engaged, the author introduces his lusty, raucous other major characters—all, in their own ways, seekers—many of whom function also as narrators. There’s fur and whiskey to be traded, land to be seized, and stories to be told, by such wanderers as: Civil War veteran Custis Straw, resourceful American journalist Caleb Ayto, and devious tavernkeeper Aloysius Dooley, plucky Lucy Stoveall, who’s determined to avenge the murder of her young sister Madge, and—the story’s most haunting character—half-breed guide Jerry Potts (a real historical figure), who crystallizes in his own nature and history the experiences common to them all, of division, alienation, and rootlessness. There’s an almost Platonic articulation of divisions and mirrorings thus working among Vanderhaeghe’s gallery of opportunists and misfits—who are nevertheless brought unforgettably to life by this consistently surprising narrative’s deft re-creation of its remote milieu. The novel’s expanse is chronological as well, reaching back to the Gaunt twins’ youth in which they shared their dreams and sensed their differences, and forward to Charles’s later meditations on how his great adventure has altered, as well as validated, his life.

Sumptuously imagined and fashioned with a master craftsman’s attentiveness and finesse. Brilliant work.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-87113-912-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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